Ireland’s economy is struggling, but forming strategic alliances could be the key to a solid recovery, says Beatrice Blake

The Irish government has identified strong export performance as a core part of Ireland's economic recovery. Just a glance at Ireland's latest food and drink export figures demonstrates this sector has more than risen to the government's challenge.

In 2010, food and drink export sales grew by 11% to reach 7.9bn, reinforcing the enduring global demand for Irish goods even in uncertain times. Food and drink exports, particularly those destined for the UK, outperformed other sectors in 2010 and our main overseas market accounted for 44% of the total and showed growth of 4% versus the previous year, aided of course by an improved euro-sterling exchange rate. These results position the sector to grow by 40% to reach a value of 12bn by 2020.

Innovative and successful Irish brands such as Kerrygold, Baileys, Jameson, Goodfella's, Rustlers and Cheestrings have contributed much to the reputation and success of the Irish food industry and they continue to do so. But maintaining the success of 'Brand Ireland' is equally important in providing an umbrella identity under which all producers, growers and brands can group together to share common values of excellence, innovation as well as sustainability.

The core of the Brand Ireland proposition is rooted in the island's unspoilt agricultural landscape, which has led to the development of world-class beef and dairy industries. With surplus production of beef and dairy, we have never been better placed to meet growing demand from the UK for products that are produced ethically and with a small carbon footprint.

But Brand Ireland is not just about Ireland's green heritage. It is also about the development of a smart economy. While observing good market governance, firms can work together in a spirit of 'co-opetition' sharing investment in product development, research and market access for the greater good of all in particular the end consumer.

It is this spirit of partnership that we in Bord Bia aim to foster among Irish food and drink exporters. This is our particular goal in the UK where we are keen to promote co-opetition across the food chain in areas such as innovation, education, entrepreneurship and consumer driven insights.

One example of this cooperation and partnership is A Flavour of the Future a UK foodservice event that we at Bord Bia are hosting in April. This event will deliver insights into the "post-recession" UK foodservice landscape and has been designed to bring UK operators and distributors head to head with cutting-edge industry trends. Original research commissioned by Bord Bia will illustrate how the economic downturn has impacted consumer eat-out patterns and spending habits.

Our intention is that the event will provide a fresh perspective on the UK foodservice consumer and give operators both the inspiration and tools to not only survive but to thrive in a challenging landscape.

Ireland has never been more determined to show its commitment to recovery and growth. We need the support of all our trading partners through export sales. But this can never be achieved in isolation. Teamwork is the way forward and we are delighted to be playing our part by working alongside our UK customers.

Beatrice Blake is director of Bord Bia London.