Irish products holding their own among top brands
Popularity of Irish food abroad has helped value of exports surpass €9bn for first time
If there are three places that certainly know their fine food – the food halls of Selfridges, Harrods and Fortnum and Mason certainly make the cut. In fact, the latter two made the list of the world’s best department store food halls compiled by internationally renowned travel guide Frommer’s.
While the high standards of these bastions of fine food is well-documented, the fact that a lot of their produce comes from Ireland is not. Among the Irish food products available in there are Coole Swan Irish cream liquor, Mellas’s Fudge, G’s Gourmet Jams, Cashel Blue Cheese, Mileeven honey and Glenilen yoghurt.
The popularity of Irish food abroad should come as no surprise, considering the announcement by Bord Bia last week that the value of Irish food and drink exports surpassed €9 billion for the first time in 2012.
Birgitta Curtin of the Burren Smokehouse in Co Clare began supplying the iconic British store that is Fortnum and Mason in January 2011 and hasn’t looked back.
“Fortnum & Mason has opened up my doors. They were a huge catalyst for us in terms of getting other places. Within months of getting listed with them, we were supplying Dean DeLuca in New York and KaDeWe in Berlin. I also got a call off Ross Lewis in Chapter One who asked for our salmon for the State dinner for the Queen.”
Curtin’s Irish organic salmon is smoked on her premises in Lisdoonvarna and sold in the London store under the Fortnum and Mason branding.
“I usually prefer to have our own branding on our products but Fortnum and Mason is so prestigious and has a very strong renowned brand, so I didn’t mind.”
Clonakilty Black Pudding has also been supplying Fortnum and Mason since 2011 as well as Harrods.
“We have a delivery that goes from Cork to London every week. We send over black pudding and white pudding under our own brand but packaged specially for Harrods,” says Louise Murphy, a marketing executive with the company.
She says the popularity of the company’s products in the UK far exceeded their expectations.
“The English love Irish produce. The Irish image sells really well over there.”
Florrie Purcell of The Scullery in Co Offaly began supplying Selfridges in April 2012.
“Selfridges requested a meeting with me. I was delighted but didn’t see the point of meeting them as they already did everything so well. I questioned why they were asking me to bring apples to the orchard.
“I also felt people in London would be more likely to buy an English version of a product than an Irish version if the two of them were side by side.
“They came back to me saying I could make a product under the Selfridges brand, so no one would know any better.”
As well as supplying brandy butter to the department store under the Selfridges brand, Purcell also supplies all of her relishes, puddings and sauces, under her own branding.
“They are looking for more and more products from me. It’s gas that my business is growing in the recession. I was really surprised that customers were choosing my products over other similar ones, even though mine were more expensive.”
But things haven’t been easy for some of the smaller Irish suppliers. One such producer is David McDonald of Dublin-based pesto company Genovese Foods. McDonald had to stop supplying Selfridges last year despite the popularity of his products there due to logistical reasons.
“The logistics of getting the pesto to London were very difficult. They were mad keen to get it but it was very costly to transport. I heard people say the stretch of water between Ireland and the UK was the most expensive stretch of water in the world to get products across.”
The store, which was selling nine types of Italian pesto at the time, said customers who tried out the Irish fresh pesto keep returning for more, with buyer Andrew Cavanna saying McDonald’s pesto was the best he has tasted outside of Genoa.
The product outsold the Italian version of pesto by nine to one, according to Selfridges.
“The product has a shelf-life of just one month from when it enters the store, so we couldn’t be sending over pallet loads.”
According to Gillian Swaine, a trade marketing specialist with Bord Bia in London, “Irish producers are held in a very positive light in the UK”.
She says that Irish products are seen as sustainable and green, which is a strong selling point.