Ireland is the largest net exporter of beef in the northern hemisphere, just behind Brazil, Australia, Argentina and New Zealand overall globally. Other countries like the US export more, but they are also major importers as well.
As Bord Bia presented at the recent meat seminar, Irish beef has a high-quality reputation across Europe among consumers and meat buyers. That has been built over decades of trade – centuries in the case of Britain – added to by various Bord Bia promotional campaigns.
Yet the difficulty persists in getting a consistent return to Irish farmers at the beginning of that supply chain. While beef prices are satisfactory at present and benchmark favourably compared with prices in our major export markets, it is only a few months since they were completely off that pace.
Huge volatility in a farming system that has wafer thin margins at the best of times is not the basis for long-term economic sustainability.
Identity for Irish beef
Bord Bia research shows that there is a good awareness of Irish beef and its credentials in our main export markets. The positive image of Irish beef in the minds of consumers and buyers alike means that there is always an export market in the UK and Western Europe in particular, with ambition to grow exports to China and develop exports to the Philippines further.
Aside from that, results outside Europe have been patchy for Irish beef exports. Last week, Bord Bia kicked off its beef from Europe campaign and hopefully it will resuscitate Irish beef exports to the US, which halved in 2022 compared with 2021.
There has been no respite so far in 2023, with just 96t of the 86,917t imported by the US in the first three weeks coming from Ireland. The US market will only get more difficult for Irish exporters as the year goes on, because Brazil has already used almost 12,000t of the 65,000t tariff-free quota also used by Ireland. Once this is filled, Irish beef becomes 25% more expensive because of tariffs, so the promotional campaign has its work to do to drive sales.
When the PGI approval for Irish grassfed beef – which is expected early this year – arrives, it will become another part of the tool kit for marketing beef from across the island of Ireland. Bord Bia and the LMC in Northern Ireland will have to devise a plan and resources to build value in the PGI brand.
When contacted by the Irish Farmers Journal this week, LMC said it is “currently planning our business priorities and budgets for the 2023/24 financial year and as part of that process we will look at what resource we will put towards supporting the industry as it seeks to generate value from the potential use of the PGI in the marketplace.”
Bord Bia told the Irish Farmers Journal that it is “preparing the optimum market approach where PGI can support a premium position for Irish beef. This will initially focus on markets like Italy, Spain and France, where PGI recognition and association with local European origin and superior quality are highest.”
It is clear that there is recognised value in the Irish beef brand at consumer and beef buyer level across the UK and Western Europe.
This is as far as a promotional organisation can take it – from this point, it becomes a commercial issue, where the factories that sell Irish beef have to secure a price point that enables them return a consistently higher value to Irish farmers than has been the case to-date.
Sporadically, Irish beef prices will be among the best in Europe, but too frequently in 2022, they dropped off and fell behind Poland, who would be perceived as a commodity beef producer supplying lower value markets. The PGI has potential, but brings no guarantee of success. Bord Bia and LMC in the north have to find a way to jointly resource its promotion adequately to give it the maximum chance of success.
Elsewhere, while delivering EU campaigns bring useful additional resource to Bord Bia, great care has to be taken to avoid mixed or confused messaging in relation to Irish beef branding.