A Lidl of what we need

WE may have unwittingly stumbled on the key to increasing food exports.

Agri Aware, which promotes awareness of the Irish agri-food industry, has been sniping at the Aldi and Lidl discount stores for not selling enough Irish-manufactured food. Less than 20% of food products sold in their Irish stores are native.

RGDATA, the representative body of Irish retailers, has also been examining Aldi and Lidl. This is not surprising, given the sales success of these companies, and at the expense of RGDATA members.

RGDATA says the success of the two discount stores, which have German parent companies, explains the 2,000% increase in German food imports to Ireland.

Imports of German beef products went from 54 tonnes, in 2000, to 469 tonnes, in 2001.

This 1,870% increase is even more surprising when you consider that Ireland is the largest beef exporter in Europe.

And the increase shows no sign of stopping.

From January to August, this year, imports of German beef products were 709 tonnes.

From 2000 to 2001, German food imports increased by 644%, for chicken-based products, reaching 1,166 tonnes last year.

Irish shoppers increased their purchases of German lamb products by 7,025%, and imports of potato-based foods increased 1,396%.

The increases were 1,246%, for German vegetable products, 682%, for fruit foods, and 453%, for fish products.

RGDATA said it was alarmed at the rise in imports of key foodstuffs from Germany, and it joined Agri Aware in calling for Aldi and Lidl to source more food products from Irish suppliers.

The Irish retail representative group called for an investigation by the Minister for Agriculture, and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

RGDATA said it was alarming that the most notable rates of increase occurred in products that can best be sourced locally.

Admiration, rather than alarm, will be the reaction of many in the Irish agri-food business. They will be impressed by the great achievements of the German food industry, working under much the same EU conditions as Ireland’s food industry.

Admirers will also be wondering how Irish food manufacturers, distributors, and marketers can emulate this success, and hope to increase Irish food exports to another EU member state by 2,000%.

One of the answers might be that the key to Irish food export success is at retail level.

If Ireland was home to an international retail giant, could their overseas stores be as effective a route to sales for our food processors, as Aldi and Lidl have been for the German food industry? Could Dunnes Stores, which has 23 stores in Northern Ireland, nine in the UK and four in Spain, carry the flag for Irish foods?

Agri Aware are playing their part by running a national radio campaign this Christmas, encouraging shoppers and diners to buy Irish. But we could have the whole world buying Irish, if we knew the secrets behind Germany’s 2,000% increase in imports to Ireland.

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