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‘A key market for Ireland’ – meet the Irish producers at Germany’s Biofach organic trade fair

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Conor Mulhall, CEO of The Little Milk Company, at the recent Biofach organic trade fair in Nuremberg, Germany

Conor Mulhall, CEO of The Little Milk Company, at the recent Biofach organic trade fair in Nuremberg, Germany

Aoife McCann, Managing Director at Glenisk

Aoife McCann, Managing Director at Glenisk

Some of the Irish exhibitors at Biofach

Some of the Irish exhibitors at Biofach

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Conor Mulhall, CEO of The Little Milk Company, at the recent Biofach organic trade fair in Nuremberg, Germany

Germany, the largest organic market in Europe, will be a key target for Irish organic exports over the coming years, according to Bord Bia.

Home to 83 million people, Germany’s organic market is worth €15.9bn and has grown by more than 50pc since 2016.

Germany has a number of specialised organic supermarkets, with more opening every year, said Bord Bia. Organic food accounts for almost 7pc of the total food market in the country, and the organic share of total grocery retail food turnover was 5.7pc in 2019.

Irish dairy, beef and lamb have the biggest potential as export produce, as Germany isn’t self-sufficient, according to Noreen Lanigan, Bord Bia’s Interim Director of Global Business Development.

Speaking recently at Nuremberg’s Biofach, the world’s largest organic trade fair, she said Germany “is a key market for Ireland” and that beef and dairy will be big drivers of growth within the sector.

Seven Irish companies exhibited at Biofach, where they hoped to attract new buyers for their produce and maintain relationships with their existing German buyers.

“The scope for Irish beef is absolutely huge in Germany,” says John Purcell, company director of Good Herdsmen. The Tipperary-based organic beef company has been exporting to Germany for the last 22 years after looking to the export market when the supply of organic beef became too great for the Irish demand.

“We first started exporting beef to small shops and the logistics were just a nightmare. But in 2009 we made a big breakthrough, and we became one of three suppliers to a baby food company; we’re now their main supplier.”

Good Herdsmen continues to sell meat to the German baby food sector in frozen, 15kg blocks, as well as fresh steak cuts to the retail sector.

John says once you secure a listing with a German supermarket chain, they test you to see how you perform before extending or increasing your contract.

“They give you a region, if you do that well for six months they’ll give you another region, and so on. It’s very cleverly done.”

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Aoife McCann, Managing Director at Glenisk

Aoife McCann, Managing Director at Glenisk

Aoife McCann, Managing Director at Glenisk

John says exhibiting at trade fairs such as Biofach is crucial for attracting new buyers. He says if you get just one new buyer from attending an international trade fair, you’re doing well. “I think all the agencies have done everything they can do, it’s up to you and the product after that. You need to get out and share your products.

“You have to be there in the flesh, to talk about the product and meet people to maintain business.

“There’s a lot of beef going to come into the sector so I feel it’s our job to continue to find new markets for the produce, and there are markets here in Germany.”

Irish dairy exports to Germany are worth €363m, according to Bord Bia and The Little Milk Company, which is based in Waterford, has been in this market since 2013.

“You have to fish where the fish are, and the fish are in Germany,” says Conor Mulhall, CEO of the company. “It’s just on another level size wise. We export about 90pc of our produce and half of that goes to Germany.

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“We sell through one of the largest organic retailers and that goes well for us. We sell into Germany, France, America and other countries, where Irish agriculture is seen in a positive light, so you’re pushing an open door.”

The German consumer, he said, shops more frequently than the Irish consumer and therefore tends to buy smaller packets.

“In Germany, sliced cheese sells well, whereas at home, people usually buy a 200g block.”

But finding the right distributor for your produce when exporting to Germany can be a challenge, Conor points out.

“The distributor has a serious amount of power in Germany, they can dictate all sorts of stuff like your terms and what price you sell your products at.

“I remember our first distributor said to me, ‘your product will never sell in Germany,’ but he ended up coming back to us and said ‘I was totally wrong, you’ve sold an amazing amount of cheese.’ Understanding the dynamics of the market is a challenge, it’s a whole other ball game in Germany, which is fine, but you need to know that before you start exporting, and we didn’t, but we do now.”

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Some of the Irish exhibitors at Biofach

Some of the Irish exhibitors at Biofach

Some of the Irish exhibitors at Biofach

Despite a fire at its plant last September, Glenisk will have its first product on German shelves this September.

The company will be supplying 40,000 pots of Bo Shona yoghurt — an entirely grass-fed, milk-based yoghurt, created specifically for the German market.

“A lot of retailers in Germany would be very keen to source locally and avoid any air miles, but they simply wouldn’t be able to create a product like this because they wouldn’t have the climate or the green grass available,” says Aoife McCann, Managing Director.

However, she adds that matching the retail price of yoghurt on German shelves is going to be a challenge as “organic is a very baseline standard in Germany, it has not got the premium status that it has elsewhere”.

“So we have to reach a competitive retail on the shelf with a product which has to travel a little bit further than perhaps some of the local brands do.”

Aoife says that although Glenisk is new to the German market, it’s a market she has always been keen to become involved in, knowing the potential for Irish produce.

“We’re new to the market but it’s a market very close to [Glenisk CEO]Vincent Cleary’s heart. He worked here for years and learned about organics here and then converted his own business into organics. He’s also married to a German lady so it’s always been a market he’s been very keen to become involved in.”


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