20 minutes with: Thia Hennessy of UCC on Ireland's food island image
Lorcan Allen speaks to Prof Thia Hennessy, dean of the Business School at University College Cork (UCC) on the future of CAP and the demand for graduates in the Irish food industry.

Are you confident in the future of the Irish agri food industry?

We’re seeing really high employment rates for students coming out of undergraduate level and postgraduate courses. Students are going to work for major agri-food processers in Ireland such as Musgraves, Kerry, Glanbia and Dairygold. Others are joining Bord Bia to work internationally.

Does Ireland have a strong reputation internationally for agri-food education?

Ireland has an image as a food island and we’re a big food exporter with a lot of Irish multinationals based in markets around the world. Irish food companies are interested in taking international students into their business because it gives them the opportunity to meet students from markets where they do business. If students are suitable, companies can employ them back in their home country.

Is Brexit having an impact?

Brexit has resulted in a lot of students that would have previously gone to the UK now coming to Ireland. Across the Irish universities, the number of international students has doubled over the last couple of years. It’s one of the few silver linings in the cloud of Brexit.

How do you see the next CAP evolving?

The biggest concern I would have is that we’re losing the common nature of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Once a policy becomes devolved, the next question might be why the budget isn’t devolved also.

The idea of allowing member states have more control over subsidy payments should be good for Ireland overall as we will have a policy designed for Ireland.

Will the next CAP be more environmentally focused?

It’s hard to say at this point because there’s such a long negotiation process and things can change so much but the words from the Commissioner have been pretty clear in the role of agriculture in protecting against climate change and supplying a safe, secure supply of food that has the minimum possible impact on the environment. I think the difference this time possibly is any environmental policies we have will be results-driven. So it won’t necessarily be payments for compliance or participation but it might be payments for actually delivering some sort of environmental good.

What does UCC offer in agri-food education?

The Bachelor of Commerce (BComm) from UCC’s business school has always had the option to specialise in food. We also offer a specialised food business degree in food marketing and entrepreneurship. UCC is currently at the advanced stages of developing an agricultural science undergraduate programme. We’re also starting a Masters in Science (MSc) in Food Business and Innovation, which will focus on emerging food business trends globally with a special focus on innovation. The second course starting this autumn is an MSc in co-operatives, agri-food and sustainability.

Read more

20 minutes with Michael Finegan, Boyne Valley Cheese

Sterling falls to £0.90 against the euro
The UK currency plunged to a nine-month low against the euro on Wednesday amid growing fears of a no-deal Brexit.

The pound sterling took a hammering on financial markets on Wednesday, with the UK currency weakening above £0.90 against the euro – a nine-month low. Market concerns around the growing potential of a no-deal Brexit scenario resulted in a sharp selloff in the UK currency against most major currencies.

Sterling has been under severe pressure this week after Liam Fox, the UK secretary for international trade, said a no-deal Brexit was now more likely than an agreement with Europe. Fox put the chances of a no-deal Brexit at “60-40”, which he blamed Michel Barnier and the European Commission for.

Aryzta shares plunge to fresh lows over debt fears
Investors sent Aryzta’s share price to fresh lows this week amid concerns about its spiralling debts.

Shares in Aryzta, the speciality bakery group and owner of the Cuisine de France brand, dropped almost 10% in trading early this week to hit new lows on the back of mounting investor concerns around the group’s debt position.

The latest weakening in Aryzta shares came after market analysts said the group would need to raise fresh capital in order to offset its current net debts of €1.6bn. Analysts also warned that rising grain prices due to the current heatwave in Europe, coupled with the continued high price for butter, would result in significantly higher raw material costs for the bakery giant.

This follows from last week when Fitch, the ratings agency, criticised the “opportunistic behaviour” of Aryzta and Lion Capital, for forcing their jointly owned subsidiary company Picard to issue new debt in order to pay a dividend to its two shareholders.

Aryzta received a dividend of €35m from the debt issue, on top of the €54m it received from Picard in the first half of the year.

Greencore sees growth in third quarter
The convenience food manufacturer experienced solid growth across its UK and US businesses over the past three months.

Greencore, the convenience food manufacturer with facilities in the UK and US, reported revenue of £639.6m in its third quarter to the end of June, an increase of 0.5% on the same three months last year.

On a like-for-like basis, revenue increased by 8.1% in the quarter. This sees year-to-date revenue at the sandwich maker at £1.9bn, up 14% on the same nine months last year.

The growth in the quarter was driven by Greencore's convenience foods business in the UK and Ireland, where revenue increased 1.4% to £376m in the quarter and is up 5.2% for the year to date.

The main growth was primarily driven by an increased revenue contribution from the distribution of third-party products through its direct-to-store network.

Reported revenue in other parts of this division decreased by 12.8% in the third quarter, reflecting the elimination of cake and dessert revenue. Once these are stripped out, revenue increased 2.5%.

The phased closure of Greencore's English dessert manufacturing facility in Evercreech was completed in June and the site was subsequently divested. Greencore is also now proposing to phase out some of its ready meal manufacturing at Kiveton.

Its US division reported a 0.8% decline in third-quarter revenues to £264m, though on a like-for-like basis revenues were up 8.6%. This was driven by its 2016 acquisition of Peacock Foods, where growth accelerated to 19.4%. The company says there was good volume growth.

Senior appointments

Greencore also announced this morning that it has appointed ex-General Mills senior executive Anton Vincent as the CEO of Greencore USA. In the UK, it appointed Peter Haden, currently group COO, to a newly created role of CEO of Greencore UK.

Greencore reiterated its FY18 guidance of adjusted EPS in the range of 14.7p to 15.7p.