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Diversification Efforts Show Success in Asia

Cormac Nolan, Market Insight Specialist, Bord Bia - The Irish Food Board

15th September 2020

Asia is the continent with the greatest scope for increasing imports of Irish food and drink.  The population, economic growth and urbanisation dynamics at play in Asia have for at least the last decade have made this clear.

 

And this has played out in the figures - examining the ten years between 2010 and 2019, exports to Asia grew 417% from €263m to €1.3bn 

Bord Bia has invested in its Asian presence over those years, opening offices in Singapore and in Tokyo to supplement the office in Shanghai over that decade.

 

Irish companies have been expanding their footprint in the region, and oftentimes outside of the main engine of growth in China. Nearly 40% of the value growth to Asia over that decade came from countries other than China. Countries as diverse as Vietnam, Philippines, Japan and Thailand have seen significant growth in the value of Irish food and drink exports.

Covid and response

 

Through 2020, the access and relationships already in place for many Irish exporters have been beneficial. Asia was the first region to be affected by Covid-19 lockdowns. Despite very early stage logistics challenges, notably in China, supply chains quickly adapted. The region's experience with SARS in 2003 meant that governments and citizens were more prepared for test and trace, and more familiar with mask wearing and social distancing. As a result, consumption adapted rather than disappeared in large parts of the continent. Food service returned earlier than elsewhere and delivery was a larger part of the spend.

 

Demand sustained for Irish produce throughout the region. Irish food and drink exports to Asia have actually increased in the first half of 2020. The value of exports between January and June this year was €692m, a 5% increase on the same period 2019.

That growth has been driven not just by exceptional growth in dairy - long the mainstay of Irish food and drink export to Asia - but also in the price available for pigmeat. This has been most notable in China, where domestic production capacity has been reduced by African Swine Fever. As a result of the size and scale of Chinese demand for pigmeat, the prices available globally have significantly increased. The value of Irish exports of pigmeat to Asia was €120m in the first six months of 2020 - a 33% increase on 2019 - a year in which the values were already elevated.

 

Growth through a pandemic which has radically shifted consumer spending and challenged global supply chains is an exceptional achievement, and a testament to the value the Asian customer puts on Irish produce.