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.
Tuesday, December 03, 2019 – 05:30 AM
By Geoff Percival
Almost a third of Irish food sector SMEs have delayed investment decisions over the past three years due to Brexit uncertainty.
Research from PwC shows that 31% of food-related SMEs have stalled investment since the 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK, with areas like production capacity, operational resources innovation and marketing particularly hit.
The research also shows that skills shortages, potential trade tariffs; operational costs such as energy, insurance and rates; volatile commodity prices and embracing the sustainability agenda are holding back company growth.
Overall, however, PwC’s latest food sector review found an optimistic outlook; with 96% of food-related SMEs having capital investment plans in place for 2020 and 88% expecting to generate revenue growth next year. Of those with spending plans, 10% said theirs would amount to in excess of €3m.
With few companies expecting to achieve price increases, margin improvements are set to be derived from advances in technology and operational efficiencies.
“The UK will exit the EU at some point and that will give rise to new opportunities for manufacturing food products in Ireland that may have been supplied from the UK,” according to PwC’s Grace McCullen.
However, while business growth is expected to continue into 2020, a softening in the wider economy is anticipated.
Only 16% of food SMEs feel that the Irish economy will grow further in 2020, with as much as 34% forecasting a decline.
PwC said the majority of food SMEs are focused on Ireland for growth and see expansion into export markets as an area for potential development.
However, a Government official has said Irish SMEs — across all sectors — have underperformed in terms of exporting, with only just over 6% currently doing any business overseas.
“We do not have enough SMEs exporting, but we are looking to get that to 9% within five years,” said Eoghan Richardson of the SME and entrepreneurship policy unit of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.
Speaking at a regional enterprise conference in Kells, Co Meath, Mr Richardson said internationalisation is one of the big issues for the SME sector, but acknowledged access to funding remains a constraint.
On the same theme, Enterprise Ireland’s regional director for the mid-east and midlands Michael Brougham said: “Companies need to consider really ambitious projects of a pan-European scale — significant global projects. And the other people who need to think about the ambition level are ourselves, the funders, because the maximum you can get at the moment is €5m.”
While smaller companies may still find it difficult accessing finance, Cork-based international dairy, ingredients and flavours business Carbery Group has landed a €78m loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB) to fund its expansion and diversification efforts.
Carbery will use the loan, which has a 12-year repayment deadline, to diversify its range of cheeses and produce mozzarella for export to a number of countries.
It marks the first time the EIB has supported investment in the Irish co-operative sector in 45 years and the first Irish investment under its dedicated agriculture financing programme.
That Carbery has secured the first ever European Investment Bank financing for an Irish agri-foods business is a vote of confidence in Carbery and Irish agriculture,” said Carbery Group chief executive Jason Hawkins.+