Tánaiste breaks the ice at French frozen food summit

Eamon Gilmore plays the role of economic diplomat while visiting Paris

The Tánaiste and Minister for Trade Eamon Gilmore delivers  good news speech at every venue in his busy Paris schedule. Photograph: Eric Luke

The Tánaiste and Minister for Trade Eamon Gilmore delivers good news speech at every venue in his busy Paris schedule. Photograph: Eric Luke


Eamon Gilmore was a travelling salesman for Ireland on Thursday, navigating the Wabel Frozen Food Summit next to Roissy airport, telling French buyers why they should trust Ireland and whispering encouragement to Irish manufacturers who are trying their luck in the French market.

“It’s called economic diplomacy,” said the Tánaiste, who is also Minister for Trade.

At the Silver Pail Dairy stand he sampled Madagascar vanilla ice cream and discussed the merits of higher cream content.

“It’s the shift we’re making, to promoting trade and the country’s reputation,” Mr Gilmore said. “The more we do that the more jobs we create.”

Some 27 Ministers are visiting 35 cities around the world for the St Patrick’s Day Promote Ireland campaign.

Silver Hill Foods sell €3 million worth of ducks in France annually, almost all of them to Chinese restaurants.

“If you see ducks hanging in windows with their heads on in Paris, London or Manchester they’re ours,” says Barry Cullen, head of sales for Silver Hill.

Mr Cullen wants to expand business in France. “France is the biggest duck consumer in Europe, but it’s also the biggest producer. Selling ducks to the French is like selling ice to Eskimos.”

The duck marketeer spoke to the Tánaiste in familiar language. “We’re in the third year of our five-year economic plan,” he said.

Food and drink
Bord Bia, five of whose Irish clients are attending the frozen food summit, reports that exports to France of Irish food and drink rose 14 per cent in 2013.

“Horsegate” led French supermarkets to stamp their ready meals “100 per cent French beef”. Nonetheless Irish beef exports to France rose 16 per cent in volume.

It’s part of Gilmore’s good news speech, which he delivers at every venue in his busy Paris schedule, including an IDA breakfast with senior French business executives and lunch at the frozen food summit.

“We exited the EU-IMF bailout last December. We saw our level of unemployment fall from 15.1 per cent two years ago to 11.9 per cent today. Our economy will grow 1.8 per cent in 2014, and 2.9 per cent next year.”

Dozens of frozen food cabinets were scattered across the ballroom of the Roissy Hilton under crystal chandeliers. All of the freezers are manufactured by Novum in Dublin, the sole provider to the frozen food summit.

Novum’s biggest and oldest client is Picard, France’s leading frozen food outlet, which purchases 8,000 freezers annually for its 1,000 stores in France.

The frozen food summit teemed with commercial attachés from embassies, but only Ireland has sent a politician of Gilmore’s rank.

What added value does his presence bring?

Antoine Bonnel, the co-founder of Wabel, which arranges speed-dating for suppliers and buyers, explains: “It’s very difficult to be listed as a supplier to a big French supermarket. There are a lot of suppliers and few buyers. It’s a long process. Mr Gilmore met the top guy from the Intermarché chain, who asked to see him again next time he’s in Paris. That’s added value.”