Crunch time as Irish food favourites target expats
One of the most popular figures at the recent Asian Gaelic Games in Kuala Lumpur was a large yellow potato head in a red jacket, striped trousers and a hat wearing a big smile – Mr Tayto.
“There was a steady flow of people all weekend. It just goes to show how much people miss that taste of home,” said the man behind Mr Tayto, Michael Barry of Tayto Asia.
The Asian Gaelic Games draw hundreds of Irish from all over the region to compete – Singapore were the big winners this year – and the Asia Pacific Irish Business Forum takes place in tandem with the games.
The combination of Tayto and Gaelic football in the searing tropical heat made for a surreal experience, but the games are a big hit with the Irish community in Asia.
“Basically, my aim was to use the games and the business forum this year as a launching pad to promote and market the availability of Taytos in Asia,” said Barry.
While it was easy to get Irish products such as Tayto and Snack Bars in London where Barry was previously based, Asia is a different matter entirely.
Barry decided to start with Tayto crisps to gauge the interest in Southeast Asia, hence their appearance at 10 ringgit (€2.53) a bag at the games.
“Over the weekend, it became very apparent that Irish people in the region are very keen to have more Irish products available to them,” he said.
“My large circle of Irish friends also comment frequently on how they miss food from home, so that was what stirred me into action,” he said.
His plan is to import and distribute products such as Tayto crisps, Club soft drinks, Barry’s/Lyons tea and Snack bars, with the possible addition of Bisto gravy, Jaffa Cakes and Ballymaloe Country Relish.
To get the goodies to the local Irish, he’ll be working with the local Irish societies, the GAA network, Irish pubs and also Enterprise Ireland.
As more and more people settle in the region, Barry is confident that the demand for Irish food products will grow.
His focus in the short term is to distribute a small range of Irish products to the large Irish communities in cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bangkok.
Irish-Chinese entrepreneur Qian Wei is selling customised versions of Tayto into the Chinese market, where they are known as tudoushenshi shuping, which translates as “Potato Gentleman Crisps”.