Love Irish Food aims to help shoppers make informed choices about buying Irish food and drinks. That’s because every Irish product on the shelves is a real home-grown story about people working on farms and in factories, on retail floors, and in deliveries.
“It’s simple. Buying more Irish-made products helps Irish businesses survive and protects Irish jobs,” the website says.
The need for that support is now more relevant than ever as the food chain adapts to the challenges resulting from Brexit and Covid-19.
Ireland, a country with a global reputation as an agricultural country, imported 72,000 tonnes of potatoes, 47,000 tonnes of onions, 29,000 tonnes of tomatoes, 23,000 tonnes of cabbage and 15,000 tonnes of lettuce in 2017.
But there is now growing evidence that consumers are responding to the Love Irish Food message and increasingly buying Irish products.
Recent research by Kantar Worldpanel revealed that 44 of the top 100 selling grocery brands in Ireland during 2020 were Irish produced. This cohort has grown by 18% to a total of €1.07bn in combined sales.
Kieran Rumley, executive director, Love Irish Food, which commissioned the research, said the contribution of Irish food and drink brands to local and national economies is both vital and immense.
It aims to educate consumers to recognise Irish brands and help these businesses to survive and protect jobs.
“This is critical in the current climate in the context of the global health pandemic and will be crucial in driving economic recovery,” he said.
Last year, despite the largest disruption to global markets since the end of the Second World War, the value of Irish food, drink, and horticulture exports was valued at €13bn, a marginal 2% decline.
However, the domestic food service industry (out of home) collapsed with the prolonged closure of pubs, restaurants, and hotels. But a surge in home cooking boosted the retail sector.
Economist Jim Power also noted during a recent Love Irish Food webinar that Ireland imported over €8bn worth of food and drink products in the first 11 months of 2020.
Britain accounted for 47% of that total, but in the context of Brexit, some of these products are becoming more difficult to source and more expensive.
The restaurant sector took a big hit during Covid.
“There has to be potential for import substitution — in other words producing locally, what we previously imported.
“The decisions taken by Irish consumers can play a key role in this regard. The role of Love Irish Food is to help inform consumers about the impact of such decisions on local communities and local economies.
“This message has resonated with many people during the Covid-19 crisis, and the objective now is to ensure that post-pandemic consumers will not forget the importance of supporting local producers,” he said.
Mr Power, a board member of Love Irish Food, said the agri-food sector was instrumental in pulling the Irish economy out of deep recession after the 2008-2011 period.
The economy now finds itself in another difficult situation as a result of Covid-19. Some sectors have been particularly damaged by the pandemic and the associated restrictions. It will be necessary to rebuild them as quickly and as effectively as possible.
Mr Power said the sector will eventually revert to normal, and then it will have to play a significant role in rebuilding the overall economy, and particularly rural economic activity and employment, Love Irish Food must play a key role in driving home the importance of consumers making informed choices about buying Irish brands but ultimately it is the purchasing decisions of consumers that will matter most, he said.
Rowena Dwyer, Enterprise Ireland, replying to issues raised during a recent Seanad debate on Brexit, said there are opportunities relating to import substitution.
“We have already seen some of our own companies looking more at the domestic market opportunities and growing from there,” she said
Tanaiste Leo Varadkar, speaking on a Love Irish Food webinar last month, said the food and drinks sector, despite the extraordinary challenges of the past year, has shown great resilience and had evolved to meet the needs of its customers domestically and internationally.
Ireland should be proud of its strong reputation as a supplier of safe, nutritious, and sustainably produced food and work to enhance it for the benefit of farmers, fishermen and other producers, he said, adding that the Government will play its part in that regard over the coming months.
Earlier this month, Bord Bia began a new year-long programme to support the €2.5bn Prepared Consumer Foods (PCF) sector.
With the UK accounting for 70% of its total exports, the sector carried a significant Brexit exposure.
The full and first tangible impact of that exposure was highlighted in January — just one month into post-Brexit trading, with year-on-year PCF exports to the UK decreasing by 19% (€28m).
Total exports (in value terms) of prepared consumer foods globally were down 18% in January compared to 2020. This €37.5m decline was the largest decrease since the onset of the pandemic, and the first reflection of the impact of Brexit on trade
Last month, Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue and Minister of State Martin Heydon led a series of Bord Bia organised meetings with key global customers.
The need to diversify into new priority markets for innovative prepared consumer food product companies a key message Bord Bia and over 50 Irish prepared consumer food (PCF) companies also hosted some 500 virtual trade meetings over six days with buyers from key export markets.
Research: 75% of Irish food businesses expect revenue growth in year ahead
Author: Stella Meehan
Date: 27th April 20201
Small and medium-sized Irish food businesses (SMEs) are optimistic about their growth prospects, according to new research by Love Irish Food and PwC, which found that 75% of companies operating in the sector are anticipating their revenues to increase in the year ahead.
The 2021 Irish SME Food Barometer reveals that this optimism is echoed by a favourable outlook for the Irish economy with 65% of companies confident the economy will improve over the next 12 months.
This is despite challenges related to Covid-19 and Brexit, up from just 16% in late 2019.
However, some caution is in the air as these positive economic growth forecasts are tempered by 22% of companies who believe economic growth will decline in the year ahead.
Speaking at the survey launch, Owen McFeely, director, PwC retail and consumer practice, said: “With the prospects of the reopening for our economy over the coming months, the research reveals cautious optimism for business prospects for Irish food SMEs.
Executive director of Love Irish Food, Kieran Rumley, said: “Notwithstanding a difficult trading environment, it is encouraging to see evidence of optimism amongst food sector SMEs regarding the potential for their own company’s performance in the sector, reflecting factors they feel a greater degree of control over.
“However, volatile commodity prices now clearly pose a new and significant threat to companies, especially in the context of Covid-19 related costs imposed on such businesses more recently,” he added.
“It is unlikely that SMEs will be able to shoulder the burden of these additional costs for long and may eventually be forced to pass these on as consumer price increases.”
Positive sentiment from SMEs
Separately, the positive sentiment expressed in the new research findings indicates that there will be a significant uplift in the levels of capital investment made by food and beverage companies, following a significant stall during the pandemic.
69% of respondents stated that they will not delay investment over the coming 12 months, compared to 62% who said they did delay such investment in the last 12 months, representing a dramatic turnaround. Furthermore, 20% of respondents confirmed that they are planning to launch new products or services to drive business growth in 2021.
A total of 11% will enter new markets. Other activities to drive business growth include implementing operational efficiencies (19%) with a further (11%) aiming to achieve growth by investing in digital strategies.
Potential price increases
Almost one in ten (8%) will seek price increases, up from 6% last year, highlighting the ongoing challenge for many Irish companies who are grappling with tight margins and cost competitiveness.
The growth of volume at the expense of value, continues to place huge pressure on the food manufacturing sector. The impact of Covid-19 (58%) is the greatest threat for the food and beverage sector, according to the SMEs surveyed, fuelled by economic uncertainty, and associated labour issues.
Volatile commodity prices (43%) are also a significant threat for food and drink SMEs. The research indicates that this is likely a reflection of uncertainties in global and local supply chains. Almost one in four (24%) are concerned about Brexit.UK market.
Despite the varied challenges posed to the sector by Brexit, the UK is the most important export market for Irish food businesses, followed by the European Union, according to Love Irish Food.26% of respondents to the survey said that the UK continues to be their most important market.
Notably, almost a quarter (24%) stated that more than one-fifth of their company’s revenues in 2021 will come from trade with the UK compared to 19% in 2019.69% consider the Republic of Ireland their most important territory for growth.
Environmental sustainability remains high on the agenda for Irish food and drink SMEs with 60% of those surveyed stating that the importance of having an environmental sustainability strategy in place has increased this year. In addition, over half (57%) of companies confirmed that they have a sustainability plan in place to make improvements throughout 2021.
Key areas of investment include energy consumption (22%), packaging reduction (18%) and water usage (16%).Recent PwC global research indicated that 55% of consumers agreed that they buy from companies that are conscious of protecting the planet, and agreed 54% agreed that they buy products with eco-friendly packaging.
For grocery shopping, in particular, consumers across the board say that they’re willing to pay a price premium for healthier options (55%), local produce (50%) and sustainable packaging (46%), regardless of shopping online or in-store.
Owen McFeely concluded: “A key opportunity for the sector is the area of sustainability. Consumers have become far more sophisticated when it comes to sustainable choices. “Irish Food SMEs are and will be dealing with customers who want to know what they are doing to play their part to protect our environment. Building a sustainable business is not a passing fad.”
“Knowing what consumers now value and changing the business model will define their long-term sustainability and growth.”