'No alternative' to UK for domestic mushroom farmers
Giant Monaghan Mushrooms looks to biotechnology and expanding British footprint to cope with Brexit effects
Irish mushroom producers have no choice but to focus on the UK despite Brexit, according to Monaghan Mushrooms vice chairman Paul Wilson.
Mr Wilson said the UK is the only realistic choice for Irish producers because of mushrooms' short shelf life.
"The UK is going to remain a very important market for Irish mushrooms in particular, we simply can't ship them anywhere else," Mr Wilson said.
"The perishable product will not allow you to bring them anywhere else, maybe northern France, but realistically we have to focus on the UK," he said at an event organised by DCU's Brexit Institute.
He added that "60pc of our revenues today come from the UK, so it's a very significant part of our business. That's a figure that's down from 90pc in 2012, thank God."
Monaghan, run by the Wilson family, keeps a low media profile but is a giant of the European mushroom industry, supplying 50pc of retail mushrooms in the UK. An unlimited business, it does not have to file public, detailed, financial accounts.
The low-margin, export-heavy mushroom industry has been battered since the Brexit vote, with the fall in the value of sterling making Irish mushrooms more expensive and putting some operators out of business.
Because fresh mushrooms have a shelf life measured in days, diversifying further afield is very difficult. That makes it one of the Irish industries most exposed to Brexit.
"The closer it gets the more nervous we become, but the UK does import 50pc of its product, and therefore if they wish to continue to consume the product, they'll simply have to find some kind of solution."
Mr Wilson said that as part of his company's strategy to cope with Brexit, it is looking to add value to its mushrooms using biotechnology. It has recently launched mushrooms with enhanced vitamin D and vitamin B12 in them.
It is also helped by the fact that it has substantial farms across the UK, in Scotland, Yorkshire, East Anglia and Somerset.
"I think we are reasonably well positioned, actually, if you look at the medium term... we're 50pc of the UK market and in a very real sense it's very difficult for someone to come along and take that quickly," Mr Wilson said.
"Now we shouldn't underestimate the fact that are customers are very dominant, they're very big, they're very forceful. So [Monaghan's position] is not something we can take for granted but it is something that gives us some level of protection in the UK."
He said the company had invested to expand its facilities in the UK over the last two years, to make sure it has the capacity to grow more products there in the event of a hard Brexit.
Mr Wilson said the biggest challenge for Irish producers in the long term is to remain competitive against British and Polish rivals.