Farm Ireland

Saturday 19 January 2019

Bord Bia closing on deal to export beef to tech savvy Chinese market

Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

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

The food marketing agency signalled it was "optimistic" about securing market access to the growing Asian powerhouse, which is already the world's second-biggest beef importer.

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.

Mr O'Sullivan told the Bord Bia meat marketing seminar how Chinese consumers often do not trust home produce, with 40pc of rivers and a significant portion of arable land now polluted.

"Already China imports around 15pc of the beef it eats, and in three years it will be 20pc. That is really just the start as China is currently not a big beef eater," said Mr O'Sullivan, adding that it was realistic to say consumption would grow to mirror other Asian countries such as Japan and Korea.

"That is really important as for every extra kilogram Chinese consumers eat, that means they will have to find nearly 1.4 million tonnes of beef."

Unlike the traditional shop retail format, Mr O'Sullivan signalled that they see the opportunity for Irish beef in restaurant chains and through e-commerce channels where consumers are ordering for online deliveries. He pointed out that technology companies were already moving to take over the traditional shop chains as online buying begins to take hold in the food sector.

Sinead McPhillips, assistant secretary general at the Department of Agriculture, said they recently received a translation of a Chinese audit carried out at Irish meat plants. She signalled there was "good progress" made, with a number of issues remaining for discussion which hopefully could be progressed "as soon as possible".

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It comes in a year where Bord Bia has reported the strongest year on record for meat exports in 2017, despite uncertainty over Brexit and currencies fluctuations.

Irish meat exports were worth €3.8bn last year and accounted for 30pc of Irish food and drink exports as they concentrated strongly on diversification of markets.

Beef exports grew by 5pc to €2.5bn, while poultry rose 3pc to €295m, pigmeat took a sharp rise of 14pc in value to €712m and lamb exports rose 12pc to €274m.

Bord Bia CEO Tara McCarthy said population growth, growing consumer affluence and greater demand for meat were creating long-term opportunities. Ms McCarthy pointed out that continental Europe had performed strongly, as had the UK despite the slippage in sterling since 2016.

However, with a rise in interest in Meat Free Mondays, veganism and flexitarianism - eating predominantly, but not strictly, vegetarian - among millennials, Ms McCarthy said there were trends happening in every single marketplace and they could not be "comfortable" with the challenges meat might face.

"It is facing it in more mature markets than it is in the emerging markets," she said.

"While beef particularly has been called out as the king of proteins or the king of meats, it can't rest on its laurels in that space," said Ms McCarthy, adding that the industry needs to put together a team to act as spokespeople to pro-actively defend the benefits of eating meat.

Irish Independent