First UK Virtual Trade Mission underway as Ireland seeks to safeguard UK food exports in the face of triple threat of Brexit, Covid-19 and declining consumer confidence
As EU/UK negotiations on a post-Brexit free trade agreement enter the final stages, Bord Bia and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) are undertaking an intensive two day Great Britain Virtual Trade Mission starting today (Thursday, 5th November 2020) aimed at safeguarding Ireland’s food, drink and horticulture exports to the UK at a time of distinct challenge.
The virtual trade mission will involve a series of high level engagements with key UK retailers and foodservice suppliers including Asda, Sainsburys, Starbucks, McDonalds and Deliveroo. The UK is the number one destination for Irish food and drink exports. In 2019 it accounted for 34% of total exports valued at €4.5 billion with dairy accounting for 41% of these exports and beef accounting for 44%. For the first time since 2015, 2020 has seen the declines in the value of food and drink exports to the UK. The latest available CSO figures which are for exports Jan-August show a decline of -6%. The UK is equally reliant on Ireland as we continue to be the UK’s largest export market for food and drink, accounting for €4.4 billion last year. Food imports from the UK reduced by 7% this year, further illustrating our mutual dependency.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr. Charlie McConalogue T.D. commented: “Our future trading relationship with Great Britain will change from 1st January, even in the most benign Brexit scenario. Therefore, I am acutely aware that Ireland needs to continue to differentiate our food and drink offering in this valuable export market. It is my pleasure to lead this week’s virtual Trade Mission and series of meetings with leaders of the British food industry. Working alongside Bord Bia, I plan to use these timely engagements to remind our key customers that Ireland remains a strategic and committed supplier of world-class, quality produce to British consumers, who trust Irish produce as a quality and sustainable choice.”
Meanwhile the Minister of State with special responsibility for new market development, Martin Heydon, T.D. added “ I look forward to engaging with these key British stakeholders this week. These meetings offer an ideal opportunity, in these uncertain times, to re-assure key customers of our commitment to excellence with regard every aspect of our Irish food offering. This is of vital importance for Irish producers, and will be a central focus of my work in the months ahead.”
A new ‘Bord Bia Brexit Pulse Survey’ of UK grocery shoppers conducted as recently as October 2020 to inform this trade engagement, points to a stark dip in UK consumer confidence. 7 in 10 UK shoppers expressed concerns on the UK economic outlook and worry about the cost of living and their own personal finances. This is the highest level since this regular study commenced in January 2019.
Key findings from the ‘Bord Bia Brexit Pulse’ survey include:
- 2 in every 3 UK shoppers (67%) are concerned that the current Brexit situation will have a negative effect on the cost of the food and drink they buy for their households, and half are concerned about the future quality and availability of the food and drink they buy.
- For the vast majority of UK shoppers, Ireland is considered an ally and a friend (65%) and as a food producing nation, Ireland enjoys the highest level of trust of any EU nation.
- Furthermore, Irish food and drink is considered the best alternative to UK produce. Over 8 in 10 (85%) UK shoppers are open to choosing food and drink from Ireland; higher than any other country of origin outside of the UK.
- The strength of support for Irish food and drink is evidenced by the fact that 3 in 4 (72%)UK beef shoppers said they would miss Irish beef if there was a significant increase in price or limitation on availability.
- 2 in 3 (65%)UK butter buyers would miss Irish butter and 3 in 4 (73%)UK cheddar buyers would miss Irish cheddar cheese if there was a significant increase in price or limitation on availability.
- Similarly, 3 out of 5 regular buyers of mushrooms and whiskey would also miss having continued access to Irish options.
- 1 in 5 (22%) respondents felt UK Brexit negotiations were going in the right direction while 1 in 3 (36%) felt they were going in the wrong direction.
Bord Bia Chief Executive, Ms. Tara McCarthy, explained that this trade mission is part of Ireland’s strategy to defend the place of Irish food produce on British shelves in the face of impending and profound Brexit impacts: “This UK trade engagement is crucially timed and underpinned by a true commitment to plan a pathway for growth for Ireland’s food, drink and horticulture producers as we face into the uncertainty posed by major industry challenges. Bord Bia is working tirelessly with the sector to deliver tailor made supports to meet these challenges from a position of strength through our Brexit readiness programme and our Covid-19 ‘Navigating Change’ hub. We are working closely with our trade customers to develop solutions to our joint challenges, whether those centre on Brexit, sustainability or digital evolution in this new complex operating environment. We are preparing our industry for a new world and there is no doubt that we can, and will, find our way in a post-Brexit Britain. We will take encouragement from the fact that 85% of UK shoppers currently choose Irish food and drink produce but we must also prepare for far greater global competition as we seek to strengthen our position in the high value UK market.”