Bord Bia kicks off campaign to support €2.5bn segment of food market

Prepared consumer foods sector under pressure from Brexit and pandemic

Tara McCarthy, chief executive of Bord Bia: “Many companies have pivoted their operations towards more retail.”

Tara McCarthy, chief executive of Bord Bia: “Many companies have pivoted their operations towards more retail.”

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A €2.5 billion segment of the food industry that is bearing the twin strains of Brexit and the pandemic is to be the subject with a year-long campaign of support by Bord Bia, the State agency for food exporters.

The prepared consumer foods (PCF) sector includes so-called “centre aisle” food products, such as ice-creams and confectionery, as well as ingredients for professional food service kitchens such as pizza toppings and other processed meat products.

The sector’s exports fell by almost a fifth in January, according to Bord Bia, a drop of €37.5 million. Up to 70 per cent of the sector’s exports have traditionally gone to the UK, with which PCF exports fell €28 million in January as its trading relationship with the European Union changed at the beginning of the year when it embarked on a hard Brexit.

Virtual trade fair

The State agency is now launching a campaign to help it diversify due to Brexit. The shuttering of hospitality sectors in many European countries has also affected Irish producers that are focused on food service, with many pivoting towards retail.

This week, Bord Bia will run a virtual trade fair connecting Irish suppliers with food buyers in the US, United Arab Emirates and parts of Europe, as it seeks to open up new export avenues to make up for some of lost business in the UK.

Tara McCarthy, Bord Bia’s chief executive, said it sees particular opportunities in the US for Irish snacks and biscuits, while France is being targeted for ice-cream and jam producers, and Germany is seen as a potential opportunity for savoury snacks and frozen PCF goods.

“Covid and Brexit are concerning in terms of long-term fragility facing the sector,” said Ms McCarthy. “Many companies have pivoted their operations towards more retail. We want to accelerate the growth of PCF and we are kicking off a full-year campaign of support by starting with the diversification agenda.”

US and UAE

The virtual trade fair next week will be conducted using an off-the-shelf IT platform to connect Irish producers with buyers in Europe, the US and UAE, with up to 500 individual meetings scheduled.

“We are trying to help companies in the sector decide where to play, what to win and how to do it,” said Ms McCarthy. “Irish companies export to 120 countries but we have to get each company to focus on three or four markets.”

Bord Bia has hired more staff on the ground in certain markets, as it tries to drum up business for exports. Its staff also attend physical trade fairs in other countries, such as China, where this is allowed in the pandemic.

“But we’re not giving up on growth in the UK,” said Ms McCarthy. Bord Bia says it hopes to host a trade event for this market in October or November.

“We would love for that event to be held in-person,” she said.