Food exports soar as firms claw way into new markets
CRABS to China, whiskey to America and pizza to Britain helped Irish food exports grow to a record €9bn last year.
Seafood, meat and drinks saw significant expansion during the year and food companies are optimistic about the prospects for 2013, marketing body Bord Bia has said.
Exports grew by 2pc in the year despite falling world prices and lower output in some areas and are €2bn higher than they were in 2009.
And Irish food companies made the most of new opportunities in rapidly developing Asian markets, with exports to there soaring by 75pc in two years.
One example of this is a Donegal seafood company which has found a new niche exporting live crabs to feed affluent Chinese customers in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.
Hugh McBride of McBride Fishing in Downings said their southern European markets for crab were badly hit by the recession from 2008 so they set about finding an alternative.
The Chinese love of seafood and a rapidly growing middle class provided that opportunity and they're now flying out up to two tonnes a week of live crabs, with ambitions to expand that to five tonnes a week.
They developed new techniques for storing crabs in seawater tanks and chilling them at low temperatures to put them in a comatose state so they can survive the air journey at optimal freshness.
"We had to think outside the box and learn a lot because it's a challenging market but a very important one," said Mr McBride.
They've also set up a joint venture with other Irish seafood companies, called Jade Ireland Seafood, with an office in Shanghai and taken on Chinese businesswoman Yan Zhao – a UCD graduate – to market their products in this market.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said that passing the €9bn export mark in 2012 was a great achievement by the industry – in the face of very challenging conditions.
"The Irish agri-food and beverage industry is an industry which is perhaps uniquely global and local, driven by demands in far-flung markets and commitment to delivering the very high standards demanded by consumers at home and abroad," he said.
Irish seafood exports saw the biggest increase last year, growing by 18pc to reach €493m, Bord Bia's report found.
Meat and livestock remain the biggest sector, accounting for a third, or €3bn, of exports helped by very strong beef prices.
The dairy industry saw a 2pc drop to €2.66bn, which Bord Bia chief executive Aidan Cotter said was a strong performance given lower world prices for milk.