Southeast Asia and Japan are some of Ireland’s most important international markets for food and drink exports, with a growth of 78% in the last five years to reach over half a billion euro in 2021.
Irish exports to southeast Asia and Japan grew strongly in 2021, led not only by the export of dairy powders, but also by significant growth in pigmeat and beef exports to these rapidly growing markets.
Most southeast Asian countries are heavily dependent on imports and this is unlikely to change in the future. In the case of Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore, over 80% of demand is met by imports.
Due to the importance of the region, Bord Bia and the Department of Agriculture have chosen Japan, Singapore and Vietnam for the next Government-led trade mission for Irish food and drink exports.
The trade mission, which begins on 31 August, has a number of key objectives, including increasing the awareness of Ireland as a supplier and progressing market access for beef in Vietnam and poultry in Japan.
Irish exports to Japan span a range of sectors – the leading export sector is dairy (€66m); followed by pigmeat (€44m); beef, including offal, (€27m); seafood (€10m); and drinks (€9m).
Total Irish exports to Japan were valued at €174.8m in 2021, up from €145.5m in 2020. Exports have grown by 210% over the past five years, with dairy and beef experiencing the strongest growth in that period.
Dairy exports to Japan increased 285% to €69m between 2016 and 2021 and primary beef increased from a very low base to a promising €14m in the same period.
Beef opportunities in Japan
The majority (99%) of Irish beef exports to Japan are frozen, destined for food service and manufacturing. Initial growth in the market was in the form of tongue and other offal, however more recently Japan has become a destination for prime Irish beef, imported chilled via air.
This prime beef, predominately steaks, is served at top-end hotel and restaurant chains, with Japanese buyers showing increasing interest in dry-aged grass-fed beef and beef from breed schemes such as Angus or Hereford.
Primary beef exports to Japan grew by 28% in value to €14m last year, totalling 3,292t.
Japanese dairy market
Approximately 95% of Irish dairy exports to Japan are cheese, which is used to manufacture processed cheese for retail and food service. Japan is now Ireland’s fourth-largest export destination for cheese, by volume, taking over 15,000t per annum.
Irish cheese exporters have long-standing relationships in the market, with exporters visiting Japan in 2017 and 2019 on Government-led trade missions. Japanese buyers value the consistency of quality and supply from Ireland and are reassured by the high level of detail available through the Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme.
Irish brand success in Singapore
Total Irish exports to Singapore were €36m in 2021 (on par with 2020). While the market is small in value and volume terms, as a commercial hub for the southeast Asian region, Singapore is regarded as an influential gateway market to the entire region. Food trends often begin in Singapore, then spread to surrounding countries.
The leading Irish export sector is dairy (€27m), with a volume of 8,100 metric tonnes (mt). However, the majority of this product is not destined for the Singapore market, but instead comes to Singapore as part of a regional tariff-busting strategy by customers or is used in Singaporean manufacturing with the finished/semi-finished product re-exported.
In contrast to Japan, where Irish brands are less visible, many Irish brands are present in both physical and online retailers in Singapore, including East Coast Bakehouse, Flahavan’s, Glenisk, and Ballymaloe.
Irish eggs were launched on Redmart, Singapore’s largest online grocery platform, in 2021, and supported by a Bord Bia promotional collaboration with both the importer and retailer.
Consumer dairy products from Ireland have a strong presence in retail outlets across Singapore. Kerrygold can be found in leading retailers in the country and Lakeland Dairies’ milk sticks are a common sight on the country’s flag carrier, Singapore Airlines.
Irish beef has a growing presence in top-tier hotels and restaurants and is readily available in the online retail channel.
Irish poultry imports, comprised primarily of duck, are well supported by long-standing local customers, including the TungLok Group – a restaurant group based in Singapore which is the largest customer for Irish duck in Asia.
After a visit to Ireland, CEO Andrew Tjioe opened the Duckland chain of restaurants in 2019, with a unique menu centred on Irish produce and featuring duck exclusively sourced from Silver Hill in Monaghan.
Irish exports to Vietnam
In 2021, Irish exports to Vietnam were valued at €30m, making it the smallest market in southeast Asia last year, though that fluctuates from year to year.
Dairy accounted for over €25m of the total exports, followed by seafood and valued-added seafood, worth a combined €4m. The majority of dairy exports are specialised infant nutrition (€21.4m) cheese (€2.5m) and UHT milk and cream (€878,000).
Ireland has access for frozen pigmeat and offal, but volumes are currently small. Last year did see an increase in pigmeat exports to Vietnam, worth approximately €300,000.
Meat consumption in Vietnam
Per-capita meat consumption in Vietnam has declined slightly over the past decade (51.3kg in 2021 compared to 52.1kg in 2012). This was largely attributable to repeated outbreaks of African swine fever (ASF), which decimated local pigmeat production.
Due to cultural preferences, pigmeat is by far the most popular meat in Vietnam. Per-capita consumption was 26kg in 2021. This figure is expected to rise over the medium-to long-term as China ramps up production.
Ireland does not currently have market access to Vietnam for beef, but this is progressing and the Vietnam leg of the trade mission will support those activities.
Although beef has never been a major component of the Vietnamese diet, beef consumption has bucked the overall declining trend in meat consumption, doubling to 8.4kg last year from 4.0kg in 2012.
The majority (85%) of domestic beef production comes from small-scale operations, with live cattle imported from elsewhere in southeast Asia or from Australia into local feedlots. The tropical climate presents a challenge to efficient production, making the country systemically reliant on imported beef.
Frozen beef imports are limited by price and a poorly developed cold chain outside Ho Chi Minh City. However, niche opportunities exist for premium imported grass-fed beef, especially among high-end food service and retail customers.
Similar to the Philippines and Thailand, the bulk of this opportunity would be primarily lower-value cuts and offal in this price-sensitive market.
In 2021, the Philippines remained the largest destination for Irish beef exports outside the UK and EU27, purchasing 21,368mt with a value of €46m. Ireland is the Philippines’ third-largest beef supplier, with a market share of 17%, behind only Brazil and Australia (38% and 21% respectively).
In 2021, the Philippines imported a total of 127,341mt of beef, worth PHP 26.4bn (€452m).
Pigmeat plays an important part in the Philippines and represents a more affordable protein for many citizens. The country imported 288,000mt in 2021 and this reliance on imports is set to continue.
Irish was the 10th largest exporter of pigmeat to the Philippines in 2021, with exports growing to 8,670mt (€14m).
Both Irish beef and Irish pigmeat exports to the Philippines are primarily destined for further processing in the country, or used as ingredients in food service channels.
Growth in dairy consumption in the Philippines is assured and self-sufficiency is low, so the prospects for Irish growth in the region are positive. Indeed, the Philippines is the third-largest importer of skim milk powder globally, with a demand of approximately 200,000t per annum and a top 10 importer of whey powders.
It is also a major market for fat-filled milk powder, with the market size estimated to grow to 140,000mt by 2025. The developed nature of the retail sector in the market also indicates potential for consumer brands from Ireland in the medium-term.
Winning EU funding
Under the EU’s Promotion of Agricultural Products initiative, member states can apply for co-funding to promote their produce inside and outside the EU.
Through a competitive process, Bord Bia pitched for EU co-funding on behalf of the Irish dairy, beef, and lamb sectors, and was subsequently awarded the contract for two EU co-funded campaigns.
A €3.2m campaign (European dairy, Ireland working with nature) will run across Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, and a €4.8m campaign will promote European beef and lamb from Ireland in China, Japan, South Korea and the US.
Trade mission activity
During the upcoming trade mission, the Japanese leg will include two technical seminars as part of these EU campaigns. The seminars – one for dairy, one for the beef and lamb campaign – will target potential local buyers, providing them with an overview of Origin Green, the Grass-fed Standard, the Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS), and Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS).
On the Singapore leg, Bord Bia will host seven Irish exporters on the Ireland stand at Food Hotel Asia (FHA), from 5-8 September. Food Hotel Asia is the leading food and beverage show in southeast Asia, attracting trade buyers from across the Asia-Pacific region including Malaysia, Japan and Australia.
In 2018, over 55,000 trade visitors from 110 countries attended the show. Irish exporters on the Ireland stand include dairy processors Lakeland and Glanbia Ireland, and meat companies Silver Hill duck, ABP, QK foods, and John Stone.