Coveted conditions: Ireland sets sights on ASEAN to be major dairy and meat export market
National Irish Food Board Bord Bia is very actively promoting Irish food and beverage products for export in South East Asia currently, having earlier identified the region as the market with the highest growth potential via an internal study.
“Last year alone, Ireland exported EUR535mn (US$528.6mn) worth of food and beverage exports to ASEAN, which was a 20% year-on-year growth even amidst the pandemic – and this growth was very clearly led by dairy which shows even greater potential for the sector,” Bord Bia South East Asia Market Specialist Malcolm Leoi told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“In fact, Singapore and Malaysia are actually our main hubs for dairy processing and a large percentage of dairy products consumed in the region including condensed and evaporated milk already contain Irish dairy – it’s just that a lot of this is still at the B2B stage so consumers may not be aware just yet.
“We do believe that there is further potential for growth as Ireland is able to offer an additional sustainability and quality guarantee that no other country is able to currently via our Origin Green programme, which is the first and only sustainability programme at a national level for the entire agri-food industry.
“With more and more younger consumers today looking for more sustainable solutions when making purchasing decisions, this is something that we definitely see as key for future growth.”
In addition, Leoi highlighted how the quality of dairy and meat from the region has already been tried and tested in the region as not only preferred but also held in high regard due to the farming conditions from which these were sourced.
“For Irish dairy and meat for example, one key factor is that all our cows and sheep are grass-fed which makes a huge difference, and the Origin Green programme also ensures longstanding quality, food safety and sustainability credentials,” he said.
“There’s also the weather to consider, where Ireland is a small island nation, and there is a lot of alternating rain and sunshine which makes it ideal for growing grass and this in turn leads to the grass-fed quality – plus most of the farms in the region go back for generations and there is a lot to be said about understanding and connection to be had at this level as opposed to factory farms.
“We also already know that this quality is highly-appreciated in the region – although at present we have only launched one consumer-facing dairy brand which is Kerrygold butter, this has already become the top-selling butter product in many markets as the grass-fed quality allows for superior performance and richer flavour.”
Bord Bia aims to increase Ireland’s food exports to ASEAN and East Asia to EUR900mn (US$889.3mn) by 2025 – this is almost double the export value from 2021 of EUR535mn (US$528.6mn) and highlight’s its big ambitions for the region.
The Brexit consideration
Bord Bia represents the Republic of Ireland, which is the southern part of Ireland and the part which remains part of the European Union even after Brexit, as opposed to Northern Ireland which is now part of the United Kingdom but no longer within the EU.
“The internal market study we commissioned to prioritise markets was done in anticipation of Brexit and its potential impacts on Ireland’s food and beverage trade,” said Leoi.
“Whether or not Brexit took place, the population in ASEAN is still estimated to grow and the resulting rise in demand for protein as well, plus there are various markets such as Singapore and Brunei here that either are less able to produce their own food supply or are dependent on imports for meat and dairy, so this is a demand we want to capitalise on, Brexit or not.”
Singapore as an important market
In particular, Ireland sees Singapore as a market with very large opportunity due to the nation’s strong focus on food security.
“As populations in Asia grow, production actually also needs to double, making sustainability and food security a priority not just for consumers but also for governments – and none are so acutely aware of this as Singapore, evidenced by its 30 by 30 ambition,” said Leoi.
“Ireland actually understands this very well as food security has also become very important here, and everyone knows that supply chains are not as resilient as they once were. Singapore for example is looking for trustworthy partners to diversify its supply chains.
“We also know that 25% of Singaporean consumers are placing increasing importance on safety, health and sustainability in their food, and EU already has that reputation but the thing is that today consumers want concrete proof of this – and Ireland has that differentiated value proposition in the form of Origin Green to be able to provide the data and the proof points, verified on a yearly basis, to give them that assurance.
“And although at present Singapore is the forward-running market for this, even emerging and middle income markets such as Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines have affluent consumers that have this same taste and as countries become more urbanised these foods will resonate more with them, so eventually there will be a diffusion of these ideas and values – and we are looking at the long run here.”