French consumers and food industry buyers are increasingly interested in quality Irish produce, say key exhibitors attending the Sial food fair in Paris.
Irish Country Meats (ICM) managing director Joe Hyland said France is a particularly important market for Irish lamb, accounting for 65%-70% of Ireland’s total lamb exports of €108m annually. Ireland’s leading lamb exporter, ICM has operations in Belgium and Germany, several French-speaking staff, and a full-time representative based in France, the destination for 40% of the company’s annual exports.
"There is a great story to be developed by Bord Bia about Ireland’s grass-based feeding system," Mr Hyland said. "The industry people here at Sial are delighted when they hear that our lambs are reared outdoors. This is a must-attend event, with a growing number of international buyers.
"We have invested substantially in the exhibition space because the French market is very important to us. Ten years ago, the exports of Irish meat into France were in carcass form; now there’s far greater demand for value-added products like ours."
Irish consumers will be familiar with ICM’s range of meats, including brands such as Irish Country, Slaney Valley, and a series of ready-to-cook retail packs.
Meanwhile, the Irish Dairy Board described Sial as "the world’s most prestigious food trade event", and an ideal platform to market Irish dairy products. The IDB is Ireland’s largest dairy exporter with exports close to a €1bn in 2011.
The iconic Kerrygold brand is the number one butter in German and the number one imported butter brand in the US. As the IDB seeks to build the sales of Irish dairy products, new markets and new products are being targeted.
The IDB is building markets in Africa, in countries like Algeria, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it exports Irish milk powders under the Kerrygold and Beo brands. IDB is attending Sial to develop oppor-tunities for the Irish dairy industry.
Fergal McGarry, IDB’s global marketing and innovation director, said: "We have done very well building a sustainable export business for Irish dairy products.
While demand for those products is continuing to grow in our core markets, there are even greater opportunities in emerging markets due to the higher growth rate in dairy consumption albeit from a lower per capita base.
"Population growth, increasing income levels, and a greater westernisation of consumer taste are driving a big increase in demand for quality dairy products in new markets.
"Africa, Russia, and China are areas that offer considerable opportunity for us. Our target is to increase sales to emerging markets to greater than 35% of Irish dairy exports by 2020."
Irish food exports to France have been rising steadily, by 31% from 2009 to 2011. But France’s challenging economic environment has seen the country refocus its efforts to buy local produce, including driving a ‘Made in France’ campaign.
Bord Bia’s Paris manager Noreen Lanigan says French consumers retain a strong preference for quality food. French chains are competing for market share with innovations such as pop-up ‘virtual’ stores and new drive-through pre-order stores.
"I don’t find France more expensive than Ireland, but there are far more premium brands here," Ms Lanigan said. "There is about a 50:50 balance between premium brands and regular brands.
"Marks & Spencer reopened in Paris last November having left the market seven or eight years ago.
French people made very active complaints about it leaving, because other stores didn’t have the same level of quality convenience foods. That has all changed in the intervening years."
Ms Lanigan said there is a market for convenience foods, but with an emphasis on quality, which would suit Irish output.
Bord Bia has spent €40,000 sponsoring the Bocuse d’Or finals, scheduled for Sirha food expo in Lyons next January. It is a prestigious cook-off between top chefs, who will all use Irish beef in their dishes.
Bord Bia has also made the event’s founder, Paul Bocuse, an honorary member of the Chefs’ Irish Beef Club, which has also been instrumental in building the popularity of Irish beef with top French food producers.
Meanwhile, the IFA also had a presence at Sial, where it urged visiting Taoiseach Enda Kenny to use his influence to defend Irish CAP reform interests in his meetings with French president François Hollande.
"The French have always been strong allies of ours in defending the CAP, and it is vital that we strengthen that alliance", said IFA president John Bryan.
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