ABP signs first Irish deal to sell beef in China

ABP owner Larry Goodman
ABP owner Larry Goodman
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

Larry Goodman's ABP has secured the first contract to supply Irish beef to China, ahead of the widely-anticipated opening up of the huge Asian market.

The ABP Food Group has signed a €50m deal to supply Chinese restaurant chain Wowprime in what is a significant first for the sector here.

ABP has been assessing opportunities in the Asian markets over the past seven years, and has now confirmed it has struck a three-year agreement with Wowprime Corporation to supply beef to its restaurants, even before Irish exporters get the green light for access to the Chinese market.

The food group said the contract - estimated at €50m - would also extend to its joint venture partners Slaney Foods, but it remains dependent on Irish beef gaining access to the Chinese market.

China is already the world's second-biggest beef importer and access for Irish beef would be a major win for the industry here. Irish officials travelled to China recently in a bid to progress the long-running bid for access for beef.

It follows the Department of Agriculture reviewing and responding to draft inspection documents following a visit by Chinese officials from their certifying body to Irish factories last year.

Mark Goodman, managing director of ABP's international division, said it had struck the exclusive agreement to supply Wowprime, which has over 400 restaurants in China and Taiwan. It offers a mix of Asian and Western cuisine with 18 brands.

"It is a tangible endorsement of the quality beef that Ireland and ABP has to offer, and it is another significant step in developing new market opportunities for our products against the uncertain backdrop of Brexit," said Mr Goodman.

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ABP said the arrangement would also be extended to include its UK operations if the UK gains market access to China.

Around 50pc of Irish beef exports are destined for the UK. Bord Bia has identified Asia as a key target for beef exports as domestic product will not meet growing demand in the region. Beef exports hit €2.5bn last year with a forecast of 3pc global growth for this year.

ABP has had a business development manager working on the ground in the region since 2012 to identify opportunities.

Last month it extended its range of Irish organic steaks to 10 of the high-end Japanese YATA stores operating in Hong Kong.

ABP, which is the largest beef processor in Ireland and the UK, has described Hong Kong as a "key testing ground" for premium Irish beef in Asia.

It already exports Irish beef to the Philippines and Japan.

Ireland is thought to be close to becoming the first major EU country to secure access for its beef to China, where consumers' appetite for the meat is growing strongly.

Bord Bia has said it was "optimistic" about securing market access to the Asian powerhouse, part of a strategy to open up new markets after Brexit.

Bord Bia's Shanghai-based trade marketing specialist Conor O'Sullivan said that with rising incomes and urbanisation, the appetite for beef among Chinese consumers is growing faster than any other protein.

Restaurants like Wowprime as well as ecommerce channels are seen as key to getting prime Irish beef to Chinese consumers, once the market opens up.

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