Irish meat suppliers have enjoyed a strong reputation in the UK, having survived unscathed through both the BSE and foot-and-mouth disease scares.
Today, meat and livestock accounts for 30% of Irish food and drink exports and is valued at e2.1bn (£1.4bn) by Bord Bia. Two thirds of total meat exports are made up of beef, of which 53% goes to the UK.
According to the latest figures published by Bord Bia, Irish beef makes up 22% of total beef sales in the UK multiples. It believes these levels will be maintained despite the return of Over Thirty Months beef to the UK food chain, as there will be a continued shortage of prime beef reared in the UK due to herd rebuilding.
According to John Purcell, managing director at Tipperary-based organic meat supplier Good Herdsmen, Irish and UK meat has always been viewed by consumers as coming from the same market. Good Herdsmen produces fresh organic beef, pork and lamb products for all the leading Irish retailers, but as a result of the problem of shelf life it has
developed frozen lines for the British market, where its customers include Asda and Fresh & Wild.
“Customers in the UK don’t have the issue with Irish produce that they would with meat from other countries and so they don’t have any problem buying it over British,” he says.
At the same time, he believes that there is a growing trend for organic and good quality products and that Ireland, with its strong agrifood reputation, is well placed to capitalise on this.
Another producer hoping to capitalise on the demand for high-quality gourmet meat is the Clonakilty Blackpudding Co. The company produces Ireland’s best-known black pudding as well as a range of sausages and premium bacon that is taking on the leading Irish pork producers Denny and Galtee.
Linda O’Sullivan, marketing director at Clonakilty Blackpudding Co, says its Irish heritage is a key marketing tool for the brand and will play a part
in how she wants to market the brand in the UK.
“Our products are 100% Irish beef or pork and we are very proud of our history, which goes back to the 1880s. It is not just the ex-pats who would buy our brands in the UK. This country gets 4.8 million visitors from the UK every year and 40% say they are visiting friends or family. The chances are high that many of these people will try our products when they are here and we certainly get letters saying that they have enjoyed them,” she says.
The Irish dairy market is also diversifying between the traditional big brands and own label butter and cheese producers as well as a number of small innovative companies that are taking the sector in new directions. The one factor that unites big and small producers is that they are all looking for healthy NPD to try to reinvigorate a category that is on the front line of the health debate.
Ray Lovett, sales and marketing director at Kerrygold, believes Irish dairy products have the advantage of consumers associating them with an image of purity, provenance and great taste.
“We have a great advantage with the image of Ireland as a green, lush country, which is incredibly positive,” he says.
“The challenge for us, as we move towards developing NPD, is to retain this idea of purity and taste alongside a healthier, more convenient product. There is a trade-off but we have to retain our