Ireland must be more than merely an incubator for firms

Last week we hosted an Investor Day to showcase 9th Irish Food and Agri-companies to existing and potential shareholders.

It was a great opportunity to hear the investment propositions offered by these businesses and it underlined the dynamism and ambition evident in the sector.

Indigenous Irish-led companies have the odds stacked against them when striving to succeed.

They originate off a relatively small island economy and set out to compete usually against enormous competitors.

In the food industry, this challenge is even more pronounced.

Food companies around the world and in the major economies are large scale and financially strong.

Customers, in the form of retailers or industrial buyers, also expect highly efficient supply lines, and at a low cost.

It is in this environment that the set of companies we met last week have gone and generated success and equity value over an extended period.

Even in the last two years progress has been made.

Of the nine companies — Glanbia, Valeo, Kerry, Greencore, Fyffes, Total Produce, Aryzta, Origin Enterprises and Applegreen — eight are listed on the Dublin and London Stock Exchanges while one — Valeo - has remained private.

The eight quoted companies have added 30% to their combined market value in that 24-month period.

Currently, they are valued at almost €26bn and represent a formidable set of businesses.

The profiled group operates over a wide range of products, services and geographic markets.

You will find here the largest agronomy services company in the UK which has recently expanded into Poland, Ukraine and Romania.

The largest supplier of sandwiches in the UK was there — it’s building a material presence in the US food-to-go sector.

The largest manufacturer of American-style cheese in America was there, and it’s fast becoming the largest performance nutrition company on the globe.

The largest operator of forecourt retailers in Ireland and the UK was present too.

The world’s premier taste and nutrition company participated. Other products represented included biscuits, bakery goods, fresh-produce distribution and sourcing.

While this set of companies is by definition remarkably diverse, they have one strong common denominator:

The ambition and energy to drive forward and build greater scale and more equity value.

Those plans are envisaged through a combination of internal organic investment and external acquisition led growth.

Each has a plan tailored to its own business model and markets to facilitate such expansion.

Europe and North America are central to all nine companies although a number of them are also invested in developing economies across Asia and Latin America, in particular.

Both of these regions are expected to witness growth by the Irish food industry in the next number of years.

Based on the information shared at this event it would be reasonable to anticipate a series of announcements by all of these management teams in the coming months as they plot another round of development.

They must do so as they face a large range of uncertainties.

Commodity markets are exhibiting unprecedented levels of volatility.

Foreign exchange markets are fluid, exacerbated by the upcoming Brexit referendum.

Valuations of target companies are high, and some economies, particularly in emerging markets, are struggling.

Through all of these challenges, the nine companies are confidently setting out to make their mark.

Undoubtedly some will struggle and may even fail, but that is the nature of liberal markets and risk-taking entrepreneurship.

We need these examples to show that Ireland should not be considered solely as an incubator of companies that, once proven successful, are snatched by international conglomerates.

While that is a legitimate means of creating wealth, the fostering of international winners from an Irish base has far greater long-term benefits for the nation and its risk- taking entrepreneurial culture.

Joe Gill is director of corporate broking at Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.


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