Talk to Raymond Li, general manager for Tirlán in China, for any length of time and the scope of his ambitions for Tirlán products in the country become clear.

“At this moment we are the number four imported brand for UHT cream. We hope over the next five years to catch up the number one and become the leading importer for China,” he told the Irish Farmers Journal at SIAL in Shanghai.

With sales growth of approximately 30% over the 12 months to end December 2022, it is easy to understand why he sees becoming the number one imported brand as an achievable target.

“Tirlán started in China nine years ago with just one employee. Now we have 15 in Shanghai alone and continue to grow.”

As well as selling UHT dairy products, Tirlán is also selling cheese and butter into China. Li says that while UHT cream still accounts for vast majority of their sales in the country, they are expanding cheese and butter sales. Tirlán have slightly changed their cheese and butter flavours to suit the local palette.

“The mature cheese is a too-strong flavour for the China market,” Li explains.

On Irish product positioning in consumer consciousness, Li says that when they started in China consumers thought that Ireland was part of the UK – if they thought about Ireland at all. He says that has improved over recent years, and interest in “grass fed” is also increasing.