As Ireland exports 90% of its food and drink production (Bord Bia 2021), there are potential trade markets in many areas around the world. Currently, one of the most prosperous and upcoming markets is within the Middle East.

Irish Country Living recently spoke with Rachel Tobin, a member of the Bord Bia International Graduate programme. For the last year and a half, she has been based in Dubai. Rachel has been exploring new markets for the Irish food and drink industry while also completing an MSc in Global Business Practice with UCD Smurfit.


This experience has provided Rachel with a wide exposure to the Irish agri-food exporting industry in the Middle East. Rachel has worked in the Dubai office for the last year and a half, promoting Irish products across a global market.

Meeting with clients and customers has been essential to get an understanding of where the opportunities in the market are.

Rachel’s work in Dubai has involved meeting chefs from some of the Middle East’s leading restaurants (to encourage them to use Irish produce on their menus), and attending international trade shows (such as Gulfood 2022 and Expo 2020 Dubai).

Rachel Tobin.

She says it has been an “invaluable experience” being based internationally and immersed in such a diverse, faced-paced environment, providing strong networking opportunities.

There are huge opportunities for market expansion in the Middle East as agricultural resources are limited. “Ireland exports 90% of what we produce and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) import 90% of what they consume as agriculture is quite limited in the desert,” she tells Irish Country Living.

“They need to import their food as they can’t get it locally.”

Rachel believes some clients have overlooked these emerging markets as, “most Irish exports typically go to the UK, Europe and America [whereas the] Middle East and southeast Asia are seen as emerging markets”. Growth has definitely been seen in these regions.

Rachel is involved in many different aspects of the business, including a recent inward buyer visit. This involved many different food and drink customers from the Middle East travelling around Ireland, visiting different Irish suppliers across the country. This was all about showcasing Ireland’s strong food and drink industry to interested parties.

Another event currently being co-ordinated is the BBC Good Food Awards, which is attended by CEOs and top chefs in Dubai. This event showcases the quality of Irish food and encourages them to use it in their businesses.

Along with this, Rachel is in charge of managing the drinks sector, which is a growing category for Ireland in the Middle East. It has provided its own challenges due to the low alcohol consumption in the region.

Rachel met some of Dubai's leading chefs at Expo 2020.

“[This] being a Muslim region, [the drinks sector] hasn’t been a focus,” she says. Rachel has worked on developing this category, meeting with clients and customers to investigate the market structure and opportunities for Irish companies.


Rachel studied human nutrition in UCD for her undergraduate degree and emphasises: “This graduate programme is not limited to people who came from a business background. It is open to everyone once you have an interest in the food industry.”

Graduate programmes give you a broad overview of the industry and Rachel believes they are an “advantage compared to starting an entry level role,” as it gives you a very broad experience through working on different projects before you decide what specific area you want to work in.

One of the main reasons Rachel chose this grad programme was this broad approach.

“It combines the work experience, getting to live abroad and the Masters in Global Business Practice.”

She hopes to stay in Dubai to continue working in the food industry when she completes her two-year programme this year, as there are “plenty of opportunities” in this emerging region.

There are a number of different graduate opportunities available across Ireland’s agri-food industry, with many based abroad. If you are interested in working globally, promoting Ireland’s agri-food industry and gaining insightful knowledge about different market structures, Bord Bia’s international graduate programme is currently open to 2023 participants until November.

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