The Irish food and drink industry views the Ryder Cup as an opportunity to drive home Ireland’s reputation as The Food Island. Ronan Hegarty reports

This week the Emerald Isle will be celebrating St Patrick’s Day, but this year it may have to take a back seat to a much bigger event looming on the horizon - for the golfing fraternity at least.
Already, those involved in the Irish tourism, hospitality and food sectors are getting into the swing of things in preparation for the Ryder Cup. For three days in September, golf fans from across the world will be focusing on the events unfolding in a normally quiet corner of County Kildare as the golfing greats of Europe and the US battle it out.
While golf may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the Ryder Cup falls behind only the Olympic Games and football’s World Cup in terms of global television audiences, reaching an estimated one billion people.
The Irish Food Board, Bord Bia, an official sponsor of the competition, intends to use the opportunity to drive home its message of ‘Ireland - The Food Island’. This will represent unprecedented international exposure for Ireland’s food and drink producers and distributors keen to pick up a slice of the action. They see this year as a perfect chance to push into new export markets and, naturally, for most the first port of call will be the UK.
The Irish food and drink market is worth e18bn (£12.3bn) and, according to the latest export review from Bord Bia in January, exports account for e7.1bn (£4.9bn). The United Kingdom is by far the Republic’s biggest export market and is viewed by almost all Irish suppliers as the key trading market.
With a population of only four million, cracking the UK is a necessity for broadening business, but getting a listing with one or more of the multiple grocers is proving tricky. Irish companies benefit from the proximity of the UK, but in an increasingly competitive retail sector they have to offer UK retailers something they can’t find in their own backyard.
Aidan Cotter, chief executive of Bord Bia, points to the success of prepared foods as an example of the innovation and quality UK retailers are demanding and for which Ireland is now looking to establish a reputation.
“There is a great deal of investment in research and development by Irish companies. It is important that we gain recognition for the excellent processing facilities and state-of-the-art technology many Irish companies have developed.”
He adds that while it is good to have a heritage of agriculture and living close to the land, it is
important for key export markets to project a much more positive impression of Irish food and drink than a twee picture postcard image of Ireland.
Cotter says: “Because of globalisation, Irish manufacturers are getting to share knowledge about the most up-to-date technologies. Through this they are able to focus on continuous innovation and new product development.
“This is what retailers in the UK are looking for and we cannot stress enough the importance of conducting thorough research and thus being able to offer something different.”
Bord Bia plays an active role in helping companies to identify areas in the market that they can target and suppliers are full of praise for how this has helped secure those all-important listings.
John Noonan, marketing director at porridge oats