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Irish exports to Southeast and Japan 

The region comprising of Southeast Asia and Japan is one of Ireland’s most important international markets for food and drink exports, delivering growth of 78% in the last five years to reach over half a billion euro in 2021. 

Irish exports to Southeast Asia and Japan grew strongly in 2021, led not only by the export of dairy powders, but also by significant growth in pigmeat and beef exports, to these rapidly growing markets.Most Southeast Asian countries are heavily dependent on imports and this is unlikely to change in the future. In the case of Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore, over 80% of the demand is met by imports. 

This article outlines the opportunities and challenges for Irish exports to key markets in the region, focusing on dairy, beef, and pigmeat.

Japan – rapid five year growth

Irish exports to Japan span a range of sectors: the leading export sector is dairy (€66 million), followed by pigmeat (€44 million), beef, including offal (€27 million), seafood (€10 million) and drinks (€9 million). 

Total Irish exports to Japan were valued at €174.8 million in 2021 up from €145.5 million in 2020. Exports have grown by 210% over the past five years with dairy and beef experiencing the strongest growth in that period.

Beef opportunities in Japan

The majority (99%) of Irish beef exports to Japan are frozen, destined for foodservice and manufacturing. Initial growth in the market was in the form of tongue and other offal, however more recently Japan has become a destination for prime Irish beef, imported chilled via air.  This prime beef, predominately steaks, is served at top-end hotel and restaurant chains, with Japanese buyers showing increasing interest in dry-aged grass fed beef, and beef from breed schemes such as Angus or Hereford. Primary beef exports to Japan grew by 28% in value to €14 million last year, totalling 3292 tonnes. 

Japanese dairy market

Approximately 95% of Irish dairy exports to Japan are cheese, which is used to manufacture processed cheese for retail and foodservice. Japan is now Ireland’s fourth largest export destination for cheese, by volume, taking over 15,000 tonnes per annum. Irish cheese exporters have long-standing relationships in the market with exporters visiting the market in 2017 and 2019 on Government-led trade missions. Japanese buyers value the consistency of quality and supply from Ireland and are reassured by the high level of detail available through the Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme. 

Irish brand success in Singapore

Total Irish exports to Singapore were €36 million in 2021 (on par with 2020). While the market is small in value and volume terms, as a commercial hub for the Southeast Asian region, Singapore is regarded as an influential gateway market to the entire region. Food trends often begin in Singapore, then spread to surrounding countries.

The leading Irish export sector is dairy (€27 million) with a volume of 8,100mt. However the majority of this product is not destined for the Singapore market, but instead it comes to Singapore as part of a regional tariff-busting strategy by customers or used in Singaporean manufacturing with the finished/semi-finished product re-exported.

In contrast to Japan where Irish brands are less visible, many Irish brands are present in both physical and online retailers in Singapore including East Coast Bakehouse, Flahavans, Glenisk, and Ballymaloe. Irish eggs were launched on Redmart, Singapore’s largest online grocery platform, in 2021, and supported by a Bord Bia promotional collaboration with both the importer and retailer.

Consumer dairy products from Ireland have a strong presence in retail across Singapore. Kerrygold can be found in leading retailers in the country, and Lakeland Dairies’ milk sticks are a common sight on the country’s flag carrier, Singapore Airlines.

Irish beef has a growing presence in top-tier hotels and restaurants and is readily available in the online retail channel.

Irish poultry imports, comprised primarily of duck, are well supported by longstanding local customers including the TungLok Group – a restaurant group based in Singapore, who are the largest customer of Irish duck in Asia. After a visit to Ireland, CEO Andrew Tjioe opened the Duckland chain of restaurants in 2019, with a unique menu centred on Irish produce, and featuring duck exclusively sourced from Silver Hill in Monaghan. 

Irish exports to Vietnam

In 2021, Irish exports to Vietnam were valued at €30 million, making it the smallest market in Southeast Asia last year, though that fluctuates from year-to-year.

Dairy accounted for over €25 million of the total followed by seafood and valued-added seafood worth a combined €4 million. The majority of dairy exports are specialised infant nutrition (€21.4 million) cheese (€2.5 million), and UHT milk and cream at €878,000.

Ireland has access for frozen pigmeat and frozen pigmeat offal, but volumes are currently small. Last year did see an 184% increase in pigmeat exports to Vietnam in 2021 worth approximately €300,000. 

Meat consumption in Vietnam

Ireland does not currently have market access to Vietnam for beef but this is progressing and the Vietnam leg of the trade mission will support those activities.  Although beef has never been a major component of the Vietnamese diet, beef consumption has bucked the overall declining trend in meat consumption, doubling to 8.4kg last year from 4.0kg in 2012.

Frozen beef imports are limited by price and by poorly developed cold chain outside the main cities of Ho Chi Minh City. However, niche opportunities exist for premium imported grass-fed beef, especially among high-end foodservice and retail customers. Similar to Philippines and Thailand the bulk of this opportunity would be primarily a market for lower value cuts and offal, in this price sensitive market. 

The Philippines – Ireland’s most important international beef market

In 2021 the Philippines remained the largest destination for Irish beef exports outside the UK and EU27, purchasing 21,368 metric tonnes with a value of €46 million. Ireland is the Philippines’ third-largest beef supplier with a market share of 17%, behind only Brazil and Australia (38% and 21% respectively). In 2021, the Philippines imported a total of 127,341 metric tonnes of beef, worth PHP 26.4 billion (€452 million).

Pigmeat plays an important part in the Philippines diet, and represents a more affordable protein to many citizens. The country imported 288,000 metric tonnes in 2021 and this reliance on imports is set to continue. Irish was the tenth largest exporter of pigmeat to the Philippines in 2021, with exports growing to 8,670 metric tonnes (€14m). 

Both Irish beef and Irish pigmeat exports to the Philippines are primarily destined for further processing in the country, or used as ingredients in foodservice channels.

Growth in dairy consumption in the Philippines is assured and self-sufficiency is low, so the prospects for Irish growth in the region are positive. Indeed, the Philippines is the third largest importer of skim milk powder globally with a demand of approximately 200,000 tonnes per annum and a top ten importer of whey powders. It is also a major market for fat filled milk powder, with the market size estimated to grow to 140,000mt by 2025.  The developed nature of the retail sector in the market also indicates potential for consumer brands from Ireland in the medium term.