Saturday 24 March 2018

Little sign of Irish brands on Chinese shelves



- In 2010 Irish exports to China, including Hong Kong, were over €2.5bn

- Bord Bia says that Irish food and drink exports to the PRC will grow by almost 20 per cent this year, to over €150m.

- Computer equipment and pharmaceutical and medical devices are among the most exported products.

- Irish pork is particularly popular and meat exports have risen by more than 50 per cent in recent years. Baby food and Irish butter are also developing a market in the region.

- Exports to China now account for 3 per cent of total merchandise exports from Ireland and the Government believes that could rise to 7 per cent by 2015.

Thank God for Dubliner cheese. Just when I thought my search for major Irish brands in China would draw a complete blank, I spotted the award-winning Irish cheddar made by Carbery in West Cork in a supermarket in the Beijing university district.

I felt a surge of pride at spotting Irish cheese but there's little evidence of our products making an impact in the world's second-largest country or among its 1.3 billion people.

Enda Kenny plans to send his best ministers to China in the coming months in a bid to win key trade contracts but my search of Chinese food markets for Irish brands demonstrated that the Government A-Team will have their work cut out.

By chance, my holiday in China coincides with the visit to Ireland by People's Republic of China Vice President Xi Jinping.

We are constantly told of the increasing trade links between Ireland and China and the official statistics of exports appear encouraging.

But China is such a massive country that it's understandable the local supermarkets are not overflowing with An Bord Bia-approved products. It would be easier to spot a giant panda in the wild.

From what I can tell, most Chinese people are aware of Ireland. They recognise the name when you say it, but I'm not sure they'd be able to place it on a map -- much the same way, I suppose, that we might not be able to place Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia on an unmarked globe.

They are aware of Ireland, but unaware of any sort of Celtic culture, distinct from Britain.

Some Irish designers like Joanne Hynes are making an impact here -- and, of course, Guinness also has a presence (mostly in bottles rather than on draught).

I've spotted Jameson Irish whiskey on one menu and I've been told that there are about three or four Irish pubs (one of which, Paddy O'Shea's, gets a meritorious mention in Lonely Planet). However, we were told there are only 250 Irish people living in Beijing, as opposed to thousands of French and British, so maybe this accounts for our lack of presence on the shelves.

Sunday Independent

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