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The Punt: Hard cheese, minister

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Simon Coveney

Simon Coveney

Simon Coveney

Simon Coveney is on a trade mission to China, promoting sales of Irish food and drinks, including beef and diary.

It was the dairy bit that caught our eye.

The minister may have his work cut out there.

As far as the Punt knows most - by some estimates 90pc - of Chinese adults are lactose intolerant. Its a mostly benign condition that reflects the historic absence of milk from diets there. But it means they can't drink milk.

Incidentally, for more or less the opposite reason, lactose intolerance in this country is remarkably low.

But it does mean we are inclined to think of China as a fairly limited market for Ireland's rich butters and cheeses.

China's children, mind you, are far more dairy tolerant - baby formula is already a big market there and a huge opportunity for Irish producers.

Science may have the answer. No doubt the boys and girls in white coats at Kerry and Glanbia are hard at it tweaking the enzymes in food produced to appeal to Chinese parents and grandparents. It's all about China these days.

Our Mr China, Liam Casey, is rebranding his successful business which specialises in helping western firms, mostly in the US, establish manfucturing deals in China. Once known as PCH China Solutions, then PCH International, it is now plain PCH.

Dropping back to a single word name is a real sign you've arrived.

Celtic Pure bags a brace

Irish bottled water company Celtic Pure picked up a brace of awards at the British Bottlers' Institute gala dinner.

The firm, based in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, picked up a gold medal for the quality of its still water, and a silver medal for the quality of its sparkling water.

It's a tremendous achievement for Celtic Pure but the Punt must confess it was amused by the name of the organisation handing out awards.

Where the Punt comes from, the word "bottler" isn't a compliment.

And that's nothing to do with disliking comedian Brendan Grace's schoolboy character.

No, the term is a fairly devastating insult used to describe those who display mental frailty under pressure - think footballers missing crucial penalties or golfers missing short putts.

But the Punt can assure readers that the Bottlers' Institute is not the representative organisation for traumatised athletes.

Instead, the institute's "fundamental object" is to provide "a forum for those concerned with the bottling, canning and packaging of beverages and other products".

Acuman failure needs answers

It was a Halloween nightmare for nearly 90 workers at a north Dublin property management firm that shut its doors recently. Acuman Services Management, which is a subsidiary of Belfast-based H&J Martin, was busy telling staff just a couple of weeks before the company closed down that its future was bright.

And staff aren't the only ones who've been hit.

News reaches the Punt that Acuman was busy issuing purchase orders up to the start of October. One firm that worked with Acuman has been left €250,000 out of pocket - a huge hit for a small business and one that for many firms could put their own viability at risk.

And what's interesting about this collapse is that Acuman has been making money. Its last set of filed accounts - for 2012 - show that it made a pre-tax profit of €514,000 that year, compared to a pre-tax profit of €217,000 in 2011.

Turnover fell to €16.2m in 2012 from €20.4m in 2011.

A €135,000 dividend was also paid in 2012, so there must have been no inkling amid arguably the worst year of the downturn that things were going to get so bad for the firm.

But H&J Martin said that a liquidator was being appointed because Acuman was "unsustainable and unable to continue trading" and that there had been a "collapse in the business's finances in recent years".

The accounts for 2012, prepared by KPMG, were signed off by directors last summer, so it must have been a precipitous decline in business within a year to have seen a liquidator appointed.

Irish Independent