Experts advise Irish food industry to target consumer demand for healthy innovative products
The Irish food industry has been urged to target consumer demand for healthy innovative products in order to sell more of its food worldwide.
Experts from Harvard Business School met Irish food bosses today at a Bord Bia seminar in how to expand Irish food exports at a time of huge volatility in world food prices.
Professor David Bell said a small country like Ireland must concentrate its efforts on specialist foodstuffs with added value rather than basic commodities which would always have low margins.
Harvard director of agri-business Mary Shelman highlighted recent success stories in the US such as Blue Apron foods which delivers full meal ingredients and healthy recipes to consumers down to the last teaspoon of spice needed.
The unprecedented interest of young people in food and quality ingredients showed the opportunities for small innovative companies to compete against global giants – as shown by the fact craft beers have now captured 14pc of the US beer market, she said.
New meat-substitutes such as “Beyond Beef” had also been developed while new lab-grown meat was being developed that consumers might one day “grow” in their own kitchen, she said.
The “holy grail of success is now the intersection of craft and mass” as shown by the David versus Goliath success of quality US yogurt company Chobani against established dairy giants, she said.
Some 90pc of Irish beef farms and virtually all dairy farms have now signed up to a system that measures their environmental credentials and carbon footprint, said Aidan Cotter of Bord Bia.
Some 700 farms a week are having their carbon footprint – ie greenhouse gas emissions – audited in order to bolster Irish claims to eco-friendly food production, he said.
This Origin Green label now covers around 85pc of Irish food exports and with 43,500 beef farms and 18,000 dairy farms already signed up, and Bord Bia is on target to get every food business and farm in the country signed up to sustainable food production.
Mr Cotter urged companies to also prioritise health and wellness, as those who could appeal to consumers on this would be the big winners.
“Obesity and its link to diabetes and heart disease attracts growing attention from the media, from government and from health professionals, bringing the food industry into ever more focus, with solutions sought in food labelling and sugar and fat taxes,” he said.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said that Irish food exports were up 40pc to €10bn in four years with huge expansion opportunities for dairy, beef and prepared foods.
Despite the present ban on some exports to Russia, huge progress had been made in opening markets, he said.
China was now our sixth largest market for food, with exports trebling in the past three years.