Beef producers advised to focus on high-end US market

Experts at Bord Bia seminar highlight potential of re-opened US beef market

Bord Bia seminar highlights potential of US market for Irish beef producers. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/Irish Times

Bord Bia seminar highlights potential of US market for Irish beef producers. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/Irish Times


Irish producers should pitch at the high-end of the US beef market while emphasising the sector’s “green” credentials, a US food industry expert has said.

Barry Friends of Technomic, a leading US food think tank, was speaking at Bord Bia’s annual Meat Prospects Seminar, which highlighted the potential for increased beef exports to the US following the re-opening of the market.

The deal, announced this week by Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney, was also heralded as a positive step towards gaining access to the lucrative Chinese market, where Ireland is seen as an upmarket food producer.

“The big money and opportunities will be in Ireland’s ‘green’ story - tell them the truth and tell the story well,” Mr Friends said.

“US foodservice operators are desperately trying to differentiate themselves, offer something new and ‘grass-fed’ is hot right now. Sustainability and family farms are also very much on trend.”

Mr Friends said there were many operator types in the US’s $700 billion foodservice industry, but the “full service restaurant” segment, with 300,000 outlets, was best suited to Ireland’s green image and high-quality produce.

While the current high cost of beef in the US had prompted some foodservice operators to shift emphasis to chicken and pork, consumer demand for beef was unwavering, he said.

“It would be difficult to imagine a better time for Irish meat producers to be entering the US market with high-quality, competitive, and differentiable products.”

Mr Coveney believes the US market, which has been closed to Irish beef since the BSE crisis of the 1990s, could take up to 20,000 tonnes of Irish beef this year alone, potentially worth up to €100 million.

However, industry sources have suggested the minister’s forecasts are overly optimistic given the limited scale of premium beef imports.

Several international experts as well as sector managers from Bord Bia gave presentations on various aspects of the industry at the seminar.

Nick Miles of global food research group IGD outlined how Asia’s grocery markets were rapidly evolving and how the meat category was keeping up with retail and consumer trends and demands.

He gave examples of what termed the “best in class in-store execution and tactics” that retailers are using to engage shoppers further.

Edward Garner from market research firm Kantar presented an outlook for the UK retail and consumer market, highlighting how the industry is managing the retail price squeeze, home delivery, the search for differentiation and the role of ethical claims.