WOMEN OF THE IRISH FOOD INDUSTRY – SHARON NOONAN, MARKETING QUEEN
Sharon Noonan first got in touch with me after I published my map of outdoors places in Ireland. She asked me to come and have a chat for her weekly radio show and podcast, Best Possible Taste, which focusses on food and drink topics. We did that and it was fun and I enjoyed it and in return I thought she would make a fine feature for this series.
Sharon is nicknamed the Queen of Organisation and if you meet her or chat to her you will see why straight away. She communicates in a way that makes sense and she is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about Irish food. You would often see her MCing at festivals and food events and I can see why, I do be fierce awkward and she managed to charm me into being chatty even though I didn’t know her from Adam and was mad nervous. To me that’s professionalism and I really appreciated it!
Sharon is based in Newcastle West, co. Limerick and one of her current projects is the 2021/2022 West Limerick Food Series, which a comprehensive networking and training programme designed to inspire and develop the food sector and food tourism industry by fostering collaboration between businesses in the region. In layman’s terms, and because I am just back from a 5 days press trip to West Limerick, I cant tell you that this simply means that cafe and restaurants use the local produce. Small producers are stronger together and there is a wide variety of top quality artisanal food coming out of West Limerick.
This interview is the first of a few as it turns out that most food businesses in West Limerick are headed by fantastic women and they are all taking part. So make a cuppa and please meet Sharon Noonan.
How did your career path bring you here?
I think it is fair to say that I took the scenic route to my current career.My maiden name is Devlin and my family have had greengrocer businesses for several generations.
My parents were determined that my two siblings and I would not follow in their footsteps and after studying Business and French at Queen’s University Belfast, I completed an overseas export marketing programme. I worked in sales and marketing roles in various industries including agriculture, aerospace and academia before meeting Mr Noonan and relocating from Belfast to his native West Limerick. Having taken redundancy after my daughter was born and before my son arrived, my husband encouraged me to start my marketing consultancy business in 2013 with a focus on the food, drink and hospitality sectors.
How does your career fulfil you?
There is great variety in what I do and no two days are the same. From doing the PR for a beautiful boutique country house hotel to creating engaging social media content for a large food service company to securing a screen test for a client on a TV cookery slot to event management, mentoring, podcasting and much more in between, I love that there is endless opportunity for creativity. I enjoy planting the seeds of a potential project with a client and watching them take it to the next level. Equally I get a real buzz when they throw the ball to me and I have to run with it for a while before tossing it back to them.
What are your professional ambitions? What is next for Sharon Noonan?
My strategy to grow and develop my business is intrinsically linked to collaboration. Working with other like-minded consultants has opened a number of doors for me and allowed my business to flourish despite the challenges of 2020/2021.
In your opinion, what challenges face women in the food industry?
The lack of self-confidence, self-esteem and the curse of imposter syndrome are challenges faced by women not only in the food industry but across the board. However, I firmly believe that this is one of the most supportive sectors to work in and I am heartened by stories about women helping one another and celebrating each other’s successes.
Tell us of one woman in the food industry who consistently inspires you and why?
Fallon Moore is the Blas na hEireann/Irish Food Awards Administration and Events Coordinator or as Chairperson Artie Clifford says, “The real boss!” I never cease to be impressed by her relentless energy and ability to multi-task and juggle all the different aspects of the organisation. Fallon has an extremely wise head on a very young set of shoulders and her extensive knowledge of the food and drink producers all over Ireland is secondary only to the relationships she has built with them. I am also in awe of the wonderful working relationship she has with her father.
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry?
It is critical for women not to shy away from the limelight and take the credit they deserve for their successes without feeling embarrassed about it. Little girls are told not to boast or brag and therefore grow up believing that self promotion is a bad thing. It is often not easy for females to talk about their successes, but we have to build a bridge and get over it!
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
Very early in my career I was tasked with writing a briefing document for a MP that was attending an event. I was given no direction and had nothing to benchmark against so had to wing it using my own judgement.
The day after it was submitted there was a brisk call from the MP’s office demanding to know who had written it and I was quaking in my boots. However, the senior government official was calling in person to compliment me and said he was compelled to speak to me personally to tell me that it was the best and most comprehensive briefing document he had ever received.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
When you are working on a project with someone who you admire and know that you could learn a lot from, tell them that face to face. Communicate clearly that you would like to become part of their team and ask them to keep you in mind if an opening arises in their division/company.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
When you are self employed you must be very organised (hence my nickname Queen of Organisation and the @queenoforg on Twitter), have a great work ethic and be self motivated. There is no one to keep pushing you but yourself and it is up to me to find the next opportunity and challenge.
Are you a savoury or sweet kind of person? Please tell me about a real treat.
I could live on crisps and chocolate but I would love to go back in time and enjoy a gravy chip from a particular chip shop in Ballyclare that no longer exists.