Farm Ireland

Saturday 20 January 2018

Cracking the 'Big Daddy' of beef markets


Minister Simon Coveney
Minister Simon Coveney

Darragh McCullough DEPUTY EDITOR

The meat factory man was amazed. He'd just been asked by a US beef buyer if he could supply two loads of shins over the next fortnight.

"Two loads? That more than the whole plant would do in eight weeks," he exclaimed.

This is the scale of the opportunity for the Irish meat men who are currently combing the ports, warehouses and supermarkets of the northeast US for business.

This is the most densely populated part of North America, with 56m inhabitants.

And it's striking how visible the Irish links still are everywhere you go. 'Deoch agus bia' proclaim the bar signs, while the place names - James Kelly Bridge or John Sullivan Street - and Famine memorials confirm the 200-year connection with mega cities such as Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

So the emotional ties that Minister Coveney tapped into last week were real. I especially liked his line that beef from farms that countless Irish fled in famine just over 150 years ago would now be offered to their wealthy descendants in the coming months.

And the Yanks certainly love their beef and are willing to pay handsomely for it. A good steak invariably costs $50 (€44) in a US steakhouse, but they don't come small. Portion sizes are huge - anyone for a 32oz slab of beef?

With over 11m tonnes of beef consumed annually, the US is the 'Big Daddy' of meat markets.

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So when you do succeed in getting over the 175 page application form (with 75 additional attachments), a world of opportunity opens up for exporters.

USDA officials were very complementary of the Irish administration's approach to the certification process. One official I spoke to particularly liked the way the Irish authorities didn't attempt to impose their own notions of what was adequate onto the process.

This has left us with a significant time advantage over the likes of Italy and Holland - the latter have had to re-submit at least a portion of their application.

And the same official believes Ireland is the first EU country in line for clearance to export burger beef to the US.

And there definitely appears to be a change in the air in relation to the way that the US consumer wants his/her meat to be produced. Why else would burger chain Carl's Jr take one of the multi-million dollar TV ad slots during the Super Bowl to promote their new 'all-natural' range.

Given that most US beef is reared on pasture up to 12 months, the next battle could centre on what constitutes 'all natural' and 'grass-fed' beef.

This is one area that Irish strategists need to keep fully engaged in to put clear sky between ourselves and the competition.

For now though, it's full steam ahead.

Indo Farming