Generation Emigration

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens abroad

Bringing a real taste of Ireland to Australia

Unable to find Irish food in Sydney Eamon Eastwood set up a firm to import it

'I imported a pallet [of Tayto], stored it in my bedroom and delivered them to five Irish pubs in Sydney at night.'

Fri, May 24, 2013, 00:00

   

Pádraig Collins

It started with a bedroom full of cheese and onion crisps, but now anyone in Australia buying Tayto, Barry’s tea or McDonnell’s curry sauce can thank Tyrone man Eamon Eastwood.

Eastwood, chief executive of Sydney-based importer Taste Ireland, has built a food empire catering to expats and more over the past nine years. His most recent triumph is a huge distribution deal with Woolworths– which controls 28 per cent of Australia’s supermarket business – bringing Irish products into 250 of the chain’s 800 stores.After secondary school at St Pius X in Magherafelt, Co Derry Eastwood did a marketing degree at the University of Glasgow, graduating in 1998. He then got his first taste of international work through a programme run by the Northern Ireland Training & Employment Agency.

“They matched recent marketing graduates with Irish companies that wanted to develop markets overseas. So having itchy feet, I enrolled and was matched with a Belfast tour operator and based in New York promoting inbound tourism to Northern Ireland,” says Eastwood.

In late 1999, those itchy feet took him to Sydney. “The Olympic Gameswere coming up in 2000 so I decided to get a visa and come out as a backpacker. I’ve been here ever since,” he says.Importing Irish goods to Australia was an idea which germinated over the next few years. “In New York, I had seen Irish goods imported on a large scale. I had lived in two big Irish expat communities – New York and Glasgow – and then, coming to Sydney, there was no Irish food here at all. I thought there was an opportunity to do something and maybe bring over a couple of the most popular products that I had seen do well in the States.”

In 2004 he started with Tayto crisps. “I imported a pallet, stored it in my bedroom and I delivered them to five Irish pubs in Sydney at night, while still working full-time during the day. Eventually I quit the full-time job, brought over a full container and started getting customers all over Australia,” he says.

Taste Ireland now imports more than 100 different brands, selling online and wholesale, as well as through Woolworths.

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“It’s been really interesting, with the website, because it’s always been sort of my baby in terms of making that work,” he says. “While the wholesale business has been the larger volume, I always felt that the exposure and the whole connection with Ireland and Australia was going to be achieved through the online business. The online channel is a lot more profitable as well, so it provided liquidity for the business,” he says.

Getting contracts with Irish suppliers has been a long and difficult process over many years. “It was a very pro-active approach. It wasn’t as if Irish companies were banging down the door trying to get into the Australian market. I had to try and educate them in the opportunity and then try and negotiate terms that would be protected,” says Eastwood.

But all his hard work paid off over time. “It’s a lot more fruitful now; it’s a lot more like a partnership, as opposed to some expat buying a lorry-load of product to flog to other expats.”

Tayto cheese and onion is still the biggest seller. But there is another strong contender too. “McDonnell’s curry sauce has continued to surprise me. I knew the Irish were fond of chips and curry sauce after a night out but it’s not just Irish people who are buying it. We have plans to bring that into Woolworths as well. It has a long shelf life, which is always attractive when you are bringing a product halfway round the world,” he says.

As with all businesses, not everything has been a success. “Gifts and GAA jerseys have just been a bit of a distraction. When you’ve got that channel, it’s tempting to add other things, but it comes back to specialising in fast-moving consumer products that have high impulse value.”

Wild Geese is a weekly interview in the Business supplement with Irish business leaders abroad. This article appears in the newspaper today, and in the Business section of the website here.

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