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Smart Consumer: Buying Irish only for a week? It's harder than you'd think!

The weekly siopa: John Cradden, with his daughter Anna, and a selection of Irish products. Picture by Dave Meehan

By John Cradden

As domestic challenges go, buying and consuming only food and drink made in Ireland for one week didn't seem that difficult.

After all, survey after survey shows that most of us would like to try to buy Irish wherever and whenever possible to support the local economy and protect jobs.

Our family challenge would simply be to substitute any non-Irish branded item I normally buy with an Irish one.

And for those types of food or drink that we buy for which there are no Irish-made brands, we would just find an alternative that was made here instead.

For example, instead of bagels, we'd buy freshly baked croissants from the local delicatessen, or some scones.

As it happens, many of the brands we buy are Irish anyway, such as Barry's Tea, Odlum's flour, Avonmore milk, and Glenisk yogurt, so our week of buying only Irish didn't result in any major dietary changes.

We bought tins of Batchelors baked beans, chickpeas and kidney beans instead of the Tesco or Heinz-branded ones, Irish-grown apples instead of UK Braeburn or Cox varieties, Bewley's filter coffee instead of Café Direct, and Jacob's digestive biscuits instead of our usual McVitie's variety -- to name but a few examples.

However, it turns out to be very easy to make the mistake of buying something you assume is produced here but actually isn't.

'It's not a real secret that Jacob's biscuits are now mostly produced in the UK, and that Fruitfield jams are products of the UK or Spain, and so on," says Dermott Jewell, chief executive of the Consumers' Association of Ireland.

We had no complaints about the quality of any of the Irish-made substitutes we bought, but what about value?

The prices were sometimes a little bit cheaper, sometimes a little bit more expensive than imported brands, but we did manage to reduce our weekly bill a little by plumping for any special offers and bulk deals for the Irish-made brands in our local Tesco and Aldi.

Sharon Colgan, programme director of the Love Irish Food campaign, says Irish companies have worked very hard on delivering better value over the past two years to survive against the global imported brands that are manufactured much more cheaply abroad.

"Consumers often don't realise that it is the brands, not the retailers, that give them the special offers in stores like the deep discounts or the 'buy-one-get-one-free' that have become so familiar to shoppers," she says.

"Irish-made brands are offering huge value to consumers week in, week out by participating in these offers."

We also decided to splash out on a new-ish brand of Irish cream liqueur called Coole Swan to replace the bottle of Baileys that had lasted us since Christmas.

This delicious tipple is heavily marketed as one of a growing number of Irish-made premium 'artisan' food and drink products, which meant it was priced a bit higher than its well-known rival.

"You can buy wonderful artisan Irish food and they have a great champion in Darina Allen," says Jewell.

"But consumers need money to buy artisan foods -- and lots of it."

It wasn't all pleasant tasting though. As much as I hate the stuff, I couldn't reasonably refuse my (nearly) four-year-old girl's sweetly proffered suggestion that I share in her morning porridge delight instead of my usual Kellogg's cornflakes for the week.

Not least because her usual brand of porridge happens to be made by that renowned Waterford-based oatmeal maker, Flahavan's.

"Like it?" she asked innocently. "Mmmm," I replied, grimacing inside.

Irish Independent