Greater Geographical Diversification Key For Irish Food Exports: Opinion

By Steve Wynne-Jones
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Greater Geographical Diversification Key For Irish Food Exports: Opinion

With Brexit looming large on the horizon, the Irish food industry knows that the next few years will be crucial in terms of protecting itself from the vagaries of the socio-economic situation across the Irish Sea.

Thus, it was not surprising that Brexit was a key discussion point at the recent launch of the annual Export Performance and Prospects report in Dublin, published by Bord Bia, the Irish food board.

The report found that while Irish food and drink exports have hit a record high of €12.6 billion (a 13% increase), the elephant in the room is now unavoidable, and Irish exporters will need to look beyond their nearest neighbour to guarantee consistent growth.

“Sterling volatility, combined with slower economic growth, food inflation and lower wage forecasts, will put further pressure on the UK market as an export destination," commented Bord Bia chief executive Tara McCarthy. "While the UK remains our most important market, these prospects provide an additional incentive for Irish exporters to explore new markets within the EU26 and beyond.”

Strong Connection

The UK remains Ireland's biggest export market, accounting for 35% of total exports. Notably, this has declined two percentage points since last year, despite Irish export sales in the UK rising by more than 7% last year, to €4.5 billion.


At the same time, however, exports to other EU counties have risen by 16%, to more than €4 billion – a sign that exporters are starting to grasp the need for greater diversification. Dairy, in particular, saw a major boost, with exports to other EU markets rising by more than 40%, to €1.2 billion, while seafood and pig-meat sales were also up.

Exports to international markets, too, exceeded €4 billion for the first time, growing 17% year on year, with dairy accounting for 45% of this. Markets such as the Middle East, Asia and Africa all saw growth, while China saw a 5% increase in exports, to €700 million.

One area in which Ireland is highly aligned with the UK, however, is in prepared consumer foods, encompassing everything from confectionery to pizza, as well as value-added meat, seafood, soft drinks and dairy products.

Dependency on the UK market is highest in this category, at 62%, however, here, too, efforts have been made to deleverage and embrace wider market opportunities. UK dependency has dropped by three percentage points since last year.


“Trading in the international marketplace has been a strengthening component of our industry over the last decade," said McCarthy, "however, Brexit has, of course, placed a new urgency around diversification for many exporters.

"We believe we are starting a new chapter in the development of Ireland’s largest indigenous industry, and we recognise that Irish exporters require higher levels of consumer insight, market information and understanding to successfully enter and, more importantly, grow in any international market," she added.

Strained Relationship

Last month, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (pictured) acknowledged that relations with the UK have become somewhat "strained" as a result of the ongoing Brexit negotiations – not helped by the need to develop a workable solution to the Northern Ireland problem.

However, Varadkar affirmed, "We need to be grown up about it, and we need to get on with it and try to get the best outcome for the Irish people."


When it comes to Irish food, of course, the UK will remain a key trading partner post-Brexit. Simple geography coupled with a shared language underpins that.

At the moment, however, the "best outcome for the Irish people" is to also look further afield, and for the food sector to work harder to develop trade deals with European and international markets – relationships that can provide shelter from the nearby storm.

© 2018 European Supermarket Magazine – your source for the latest retail news. Article by Stephen Wynne-Jones. Click subscribe to sign up to ESM: The European Supermarket Magazine.

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