Some 14 Irish food and drink companies exhibited at Bord Bia’s Origin Green stand at Gulfood 2022 in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), this week.
Teams based in the Middle East and travelling from Ireland joined the trade show after its two-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ireland’s presence at Gulfood is part of a trade mission to the Gulf region, which saw Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue lead a series of engagements with political leaders, retailers and food distributors in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Bord Bia launched a strategy to increase the export value of Irish produce to the Middle East to €380m by 2025
The Gulfood trade fair holds huge importance for many Irish agri-food companies as it enables engagement with customers and distributors in the Gulf region and around the world.
Ahead of the mission, Bord Bia launched a strategy to increase the export value of Irish produce to the Middle East to €380m by 2025, setting a target to increase value by some €70m on the €310m exported in 2021.
Irish dairy and beef exports to the UAE alone in 2021 valued €42m and €435,000, respectively.
The success of many Irish food exporters in the Middle East reflects changing consumer behaviour in the region.
Bord Bia says 82% of UAE consumers have made “some effort” to buy more sustainably produced food in the last 12 months.
According to many of those present in Dubai this week, there is potential for Irish companies to capitalise on this continuing trend.
Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal, Glanbia’s commercial development manager (international) Ian Cahill said the Middle East and Gulf regions are “very important” and act as a hub for exports to Africa as well.
“Excited” to be at Gulfood 2022, he said: “The big thing I would say is people do business with people.
“Not being at trade shows and not being able to meet people has caused a lot of different issues operationally within teams. So, the very interesting thing about Gulfood this week, I’d say within business development, is that everyone is in the same boat.”
On the sustainability credentials of Irish dairy, Cahill said a “lot of markets” are getting “more and more into” animal husbandry and welfare. “That’s something we can pride ourselves on by showing the grass-fed nature of our cows.”
Wexford-based Future Nutrition CEO Siobhán Donnelly said the company has been working in the Middle East for the last five years and described the region as of “huge interest”.
Set up in Enniscorthy 12 years ago and now employing 85 people on site, Future Nutrition manufactures beverage and powder supplements for the sports, nutrition, lifestyle, health and wellness sectors. Its products include protein powders, pre-work out drinks and superfoods.
She described how potential clients come from as far as China and Australia to Gulfood and said this offers huge potential to do business.
“A client might come to us here with an idea and we do all the formulation, all the development then in-house back in Enniscorthy.”
Managing director of John Stone Beef, Tim Stone, said: “Everyone these days is looking at sustainability. There’s not big feed lots and the animals are being farmed a traditional way in Ireland.
“It’s something that they can’t get. They can get US beef, they can get Australian beef no problem at all, but that’s all grain-fed. The thing about the Irish beef, it’s all grass-fed and it’s all natural,” he said.
Based in Co Longford, the company partners with Kepak to source quality beef for the premium market.
“The UAE is an ever-growing market for us because we are into the higher-end market of the hotel and restaurant trade.”
“We’re not about the volume. We’re about getting high quality into the top-end restaurants and hotels. As a percentage, Dubai has the highest number of restaurants compared to anywhere else in the world.”
Monaghan-based Silver Hill Duck sells in 27 countries and produces 80,000 ducks per week. Particularly popular with Asian customers, Silver Hill Duck sales manager Greg Devlin said the company sees growth in the UAE due to access to the market.
“Our biggest challenge is our biggest opportunity and that’s the market access piece. We have business ready to go in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia. The problem is there’s no trade agreement between Ireland and said countries.
“For example, with Malaysia, we put in an application three years ago. Next month, there’s a delegation from Malaysia coming to audit our plant. If it gets approved, that market of 40m people will be open, a massive opportunity.
“Where we see Dubai is that it’s a ready-made market. There’s market access here, which is a massive opportunity in itself.
“We are already selling into about 30 restaurants.”
With the lifting of quotas the potential of the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa markets was identified by Ornua. Their operations for this area are headquartered in Dubai.
However, Saudi Arabia is now becoming an increasingly important market, said Ornua’s Middle East and Africa managing director David Butler.
“I think the UAE absolutely is an important market, but you are capped in terms of population size here. It is growing, but the bigger focus for us would be in Saudi Arabia. What you have here in the UAE in terms of the development of the economy, westernisation and the number of expats, that journey is beginning in Saudi.”
Up to 90% of the UAE’s population is made of expatriates. There is a large Irish community, but Butler said Ornua is increasingly targeting other expat communities in the UAE.
Oakpark Foods is in Dubai to promote its new product, Marbaana, a Halal-approved turkey and chicken bacon range. The product was shortlisted for Most Innovative Halal Product at Gulfood 2022.
The company is hopeful of having a listing with a distributor, which will allow it to sell in the UAE.
Oakpark Foods managing director David Brett said Brexit was a catalyst. “We do a lot of business, both domestically and in the UK. We studied opportunities outside of Ireland and the UK when Brexit hit. We identified the UAE as being a huge opportunity for us.
“We studied its retail market. We found a gap and we decided to develop a premium halal product that’s aimed specifically at the UAE market, initially.”
The sustainability credentials of Irish food produce were on show for the world to see at Gulfood 2022 this week.
Green branding front and centre, the Bord Bia stand’s 14 food and drink companies had a consistent and uniform message, that no one can produce food as sustainably as the Irish.
Only the pitch made by colleagues at Northern Ireland’s stand could come comparatively close.
With the world’s focus on climate change and carbon emissions, the lack of attention paid to the environmental impact of food production by some other countries exhibiting was stark.
Compared to the thinking of others on solely price and volume, Ireland’s message of grass-based, sustainable and nature-minded farming was well received by those who view us from markets afar. It might be time now for more at home to give it the credit it deserves.