Irish consumers turn to Irish food products during Covid crisis

Close to half of top-selling 100 grocery brands were Irish-produced last year

Irish consumers have been buying Irish products in supermarkets in huge numbers since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, with leading local brands recording growth of almost 20 per cent, according to retail analysts Kantar.

New research from Kantar, presented at a Love Irish Food conference on Wednesday, indicated that 44 of the 100 top-selling take-home grocery brands in the Republic during 2020 were Irish produced, recording growth of 18 per cent to a total of €1.07 billion in combined sales.

All told, the brands capture 48 per cent of the money spent among the 100 top -selling take-home grocery brands in Ireland, the online symposium heard.

The strength and agility of the Irish food supply chain in the face of the pandemic, and the challenges of Brexit, were also to the fore at the event hosted by the Love Irish Food umbrella organisation.

The Irish food sector has demonstrated “great resilience” over the course of 12 months of pandemic and can look forward to a brighter year ahead, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said in opening the event.

He suggested that in the face of “the extraordinary challenges of the past year, the agri-food sector has demonstrated great resilience”, although he pointed to a divergence within the sector which has seen the food service industry “experience near collapse” while the food retail sector has recorded year-on-year growth of more than 20 per cent.

He stressed that the Government would do what it could to “invigorate” the local economy and he highlighted the importance of individual consumers playing their part by choosing to shop locally.

"Every time a consumer makes a conscious decision to purchase a [locally sourced] product, this is good for local employment and local businesses all over Ireland as well," Mr Varadkar said. "It is the purchasing decisions of consumers that matter most."

Acknowledging the difficulties facing the food sector he said there were “grounds for optimism” with the vaccine rollout.

“Things are going to look a lot better in a few months’ time,” he said. “I know it has been a really difficult start to the year but I am increasingly optimistic about the year ahead.”

Shopping local

According to Love Irish Food, there has been “clear evidence” since the start of the pandemic that consumers want to support local producers.

The commercial director at Tesco Ireland, Joe Manning, pointed to "huge changes" in shopper behaviour since the start of the crisis with the numbers shopping online more than doubling over the past 12 months.

He recalled the panic of this time last year when shelves were stripped bare as fears mounted that products would be in short supply and he hailed the robust supply chains which ensured that retail had been able to deal with the crisis and meet the surge in demand.

He predicted that “more thoughtful shopping” and a continued focus on health, cooking from scratch and baking would endure once the pandemic passes.

Mr Manning also pointed to the “elephant in the room”– Brexit – which he said had presented challenges which “are here to stay”.

Supply chain issues

He said supply chain issues were “settling down” but warned that things would never be as seamless as they were prior to the UK’s departure from the EU at the end of last year.

"The contribution of Irish-manufactured food and drink brands to the local and national economies in Ireland is both vital and immense," said Kieran Rumley of Love Irish Food. "Buying more Irish-made products helps Irish businesses survive and protects Irish jobs, which is critical in the current climate in the context of the global health pandemic and will be crucial in driving economic recovery."