Organic produce is the “sleeping giant of premiumisation” in the Irish food market, according to Tesco Ireland senior buying manager for meat, fish and poultry Micheál Donohoe.

The retailer representative also said that the “UK would be an opportunity market for Irish organic meat in particular”.

He was speaking at a Teagasc organic farm walk on the farm of Fergal Byrne in Dunlavin, Co Kildare.

Donohoe said: “From a retailer’s point of view, organic is something that adds value. There would definitely be an interest, not just from Tesco but from every retailer to grow this market.

“The challenges we have as a retailer [are] we struggle to get scale. Scale means it’s not consistent and we’re not getting the consistency of quality across the seasons and that’s going to be the challenge.

“As scale grows, retail will be a bigger opportunity [for organic produce].”

Donohoe told farmers that “only 1% of Tesco sales are in organic product” and acknowledged that this is because the market is “very underdeveloped”, suggesting that “there’s a lot of head room”.

‘Mercy’ of market

Asked about the role of retailers in setting the price paid for meat from conventional farms, the Tesco representative said “retailers, believe it or not, are kind of at the mercy of the market”.

“Whatever prices are doing, that’ll determine the length of time we buy forward. So, if the prices are rocketing, we probably won’t take a position very long,” he said.

On accusations that retailers drive cheap food policy, Donohoe said: “It’s a very difficult one – you want to do the right thing and you want to compete.

“That’s the tension we’re always facing. You put your prices up or you stop promoting, then you lose customers. That’s the tension and they’re kind of the rules of the game.”