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.
In this month’s Meet the Makers, in partnership with Love Irish Food, Maev Martin talks to JOHN FORBES, general manager of international specialist spreads producer JDS Foods, about their branded range, recent innovations, and being the original plant-based products producer.
JDS Foods were established as James Daly and Sons in 1871 and its origins were in the Cork Butter Exchange in the heart of Cork city, which was
established in 1770. At that time, the Cork Butter Exchange was one of the world’s biggest exporters of butter to territories throughout Europe and as far afield as Australia and the West Indies. “The company originally produced butter, then margarine, and today it produces a wide range of traditional dairy spreads, as well as blended spreads made from vegetable oils,” says John.
“We supply the retail, foodservice and bakery sectors with a range of both branded and private label spreads.”
In 2017, the company was bought by Lisavaird Co-Operative Creamery Ltd, which is based outside Clonakilty in west Cork. JDS Foods is
celebrating 150 years in existence this year. “Along with Musgraves and The Irish Examiner, we are one of Cork’s oldest companies,” says John. “We had big plans to mark this milestone, but Covid-19 knocked that on the head. There was some increased marketing spend this year, but not what we had planned.”
In Ireland, JDS Foods is best known for four key brands, all of which are available in Dunnes Stores, Tesco and SuperValu outlets across the country. Launched 10 years ago, Dairymaid is the flagship and best-selling brand in the range. Dairymaid Premium is a 100% natural dairy spread made with fresh cream from west Cork with no artificial ingredients. It is widely available in the Irish market and JDS also export it to destinations such as South Africa and the UK. Their other Dairymaid variant is Dairymaid Buttery, which is a blend of fresh cream and butter.
“We also have Frytex, which is a nostalgic Irish brand that is made from beef oil and is typically used for frying,” he says. “We have a
branded 250 gram block, which is a very popular product. We then have our garlic brands – Garlic Gold and Irish Cottage Garlic which are available in small 125g or 220g pots. They are the little stars of the portfolio, having experienced incredible growth over the last few years, so much so that we have a new packing machine arriving in four weeks’ time to allow us to keep up with demand. The garlic brands are a very versatile product –
they can be used for baking, as an accompaniment to steaks, as an addition to pasta dishes, or to make your own garlic bread.” Taste is particularly important when it comes to the Irish palate and making a product both healthy and tasty is an ongoing challenge for most brands. How does JDS
Foods address this challenge when they are researching and developing new spreads? “Dairymaid was launched 10 years ago and the focus has always been on using premium Irish dairy ingredients in our branded products, and to use local and natural ingredients, where possible,” he says.
“Consumers are looking for cleaner products and less artificial ingredients across all categories, and all our branded and private label products have been reformulated over the past ten years to reduce salt, fat, and artificial ingredients. As a producer of branded products, you have to do this in order to follow the market trends, and when you are producing private label, the retailers demand it.”
The JDS Foods branded portfolio of products also includes some recent innovations, such as Free, which is a dairy and gluten-free vegan
spread that is available in Tesco and SuperValu. “We are one of the few Irish manufacturers that are doing this,” he says. “A lot of vegan and vegetarian spreads on Irish supermarket shelves are from northern Europe, so it is good to see Irish-produced vegan and veggie products in Irish stores. We are also launching a vegan version of our garlic pots with a UK retailer and it will beavailable in UK stores on 21 September. We have high hopes for this product, and for further retail listings in the UK and Ireland on the back of a successful launch.”
Vegan product development is now well and truly mainstream and has been embraced by the world’s big food manufacturers. Is John
concerned that this will inevitably threaten the profitability of dairy brands? “Ten years ago everyone predicted the demise of butter, but it hasn’t happened, so I think yes, they probably will, but that is why so many dairy companies have diversified into plant-based alternatives,” he says. “Looking at the JDS Foods offering, we already supply a huge range of vegan and vegetarian products for the Irish and export markets. That is
because a lot of our products are plant-based they are made from edible vegetable oils. We have always been in that space – margarine is made with vegetable oil. We had a vegan and vegetarian range before it became popular because a lot of our products happened to be plant-based.”
Achieving standout in store Dairy is one of the most keenly contested areas of the store for branded dairy offerings, so achieving standout can be challenging for smaller brands. “We have excellent product quality, we are competitively priced, and availability and customer satisfaction are our
key credentials,” says John. “At all stages of the pandemic our brands were always present in stores, even when there was a huge demandsurge in March and April 2020. We invested in promotions in-store and online. We employ a team from a promotions company that visits stores on a weekly basis to ensure that our products are visible, neatly presented and well stocked. On the private label side, we work in partnership with the retailers. We are at a size as a business that makes us very flexible and our quick turnaround times make us theretailers’ go-to partner for private label
products in Ireland. Exports are a vital part of our business. The UK is our largest export market and we have a sales director in the UK, but diversification is the key to our future strategy. Over the past 18 months, we have developed a strong relationship with an Asian based retailer and we are supplying their stores in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.
We have other exports markets across Europe, as well as South Africa and north America, and we are always actively looking at new export opportunities.”
Food input costs have soared in the last year. While Covid-19 and Brexit were contributory factors, John points out that many other external developments had much bigger impacts on the market. “The most recent FAO edible oil index showed an increase of 90% since June 2020,” says John. “Some of that is Covid-19 related, as it led to labour shortages affecting harvests and throughput at mills, but it can also be attributed to biodiesel mandates, and as more countries demand that less mineral oil-based products and more biodiesel is used for transportation fuel, those price
increases are likely to continue. All of that comes from food crops and that is competing with food, so it is not just all about Covid-19 and Brexit. There is a lot more happening in the market. “You then have transport costs and the rising cost of packaging and ingredients. Plastic resinprices have doubled since earlier this year. Energy and labour costs have also increased substantially. Going forward, all of these increases are on a scale that cannot be absorbed by the supplier. However, at JDS Foods we are remaining positive. It is great to see some semblance of normality returning to the market, and we hope that by 2022 we will be in a position to meet with our customers and suppliers in more normal circumstances.”
A support network
JDS FOODS ARE FULSOME in their praise of the service they have received from the Love Irish Food organisation during the current
pandemic. “The excellent communications and advice from the organisation before and during Brexit and also during the pandemic were a standout for us,” says John. “Love Irish Food worked very hard for its members. They are continually innovating and coming up with customer-facing initiatives and their digital customer interaction is exceptional.” Love Irish Food recently announced its new retail partnership with
Tesco and this month Tesco will highlight Love Irish Food member brands throughout its stores. “The new partnership with Tesco is an excellent initiative and we are looking forward to seeing the impact in stores,” says John. “I think it will add real value for LIF member companies at the point of purchase. If there is something differentiating LIF members on shelf, such as the shelf talkers, then it will have a positive impact. It is great to have big retailers like Tesco joining Love Irish Food for progressive initiatives like this and we would love to see it rolled out across other retailers.” Would he recommend membership of LIF to other branded food producing companies? “Absolutely – it is well worth the investment as it adds value and introduces opportunities for smaller companies and their Irish brands,” he says.