The opportunities and challenges South East Asia offers Irish food producers

Ciarán Gallagher, Bord Bia’s South East Asia director, talks to Áilin Quinlan.

The opportunities and challenges South East Asia offers Irish food producers

Ciarán Gallagher, Bord Bia’s South East Asia director, talks to Áilin Quinlan.

While they just love our periwinkles, duck and beef tongue, the awareness of Ireland’s international reputation for high-quality food is relatively low in South East Asia, according to Ciarán Gallagher, Bord Bia’s South director for South East Asia.

Here he answers our questions about the opportunities and challenges the region offers to Irish food producers.

What is your role within Bord Bia?

As Regional Director for South & East Asia it’s my job to find and develop new opportunities for Irish food and drink companies across eight diverse countries, from the developed economies of Japan and Korea in the north to the rapidly expanding economies of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam further south.

I’m based in the regional hub of Singapore where I work with a team of market specialists and local experts to further Ireland’s opportunities, uncovering market insight and trade intelligence to share with Irish exporters and delivering leads for new business.

Awareness of Ireland, as an entity, never mind as a source of high quality food, is relatively low in comparison to Australia, New Zealand and United States.

The challenge for me is to ensure that those key buyers and industry bodies know what Ireland has to offer and have the opportunity to make connections with the top Irish exporters.

We work with colleagues in Department of Agriculture and local embassies to deliver at least one trade mission to the region each year to help ‘turbo-charge,’ these efforts.

What are the opportunities for Irish exporters in these countries?

The opportunities across sectors and markets are significant.

Our seafood and pigmeat exporters have already seen this through their long-standing engagement.

From a beef perspective Japan is one of the world’s largest importers with a demand each year that’s not far off Ireland’s total production.

Australia and United States account for most of Japan’s import requirement currently but with Ireland’s tariff situation improving I expect to see more opportunity in a market that appreciates quality and will pay accordingly.

There is increasing demand for cheddar also in Japan and we’ve seen Irish exporters treble volumes to the market in recent years.

There is no market access for beef to South Korea currently. However, with increasing demand and limited domestic production we see Ireland’s application for market access as key in leveraging this opportunity.

Should this be granted we would expect to see significant demand as has been evident from a pigmeat perspective in recent years.

Korea is also an interesting market from a prepared consumer foods perspective with successful listings for Irish porridge, ice cream and even chilli sauce off the back of introductions made at Bord Bia’s global food buyers events, Marketplace, and other lead generation activities in recent years.

In South East Asia the most likely opportunity is in dairy ingredients. Of the 15 high potential global markets for dairy identified in Bord Bia’s Prioritising Markets — Opportunities for Growth research, five were in my region.

Irish dairy exporters are well positioned to supply ingredients to manufacturers producing western style bakery, functional drinks and other consumer products in the region.

The Origin Green message resonates particularly well in this sector.

It’s no surprise that Irish whiskey can be found across the region. After the launch of our South & East Asia Beverages Opportunities Report earlier this year we brought six Irish drinks exporters on a 10-day itinerary across Singapore, Seoul and Tokyo to learn more about the respective markets and meet prospective customers.

We’ve already seen some success from this work so I think we might just be scratching the surface on this opportunity.

What are the most unusual exports to these regions?

In South Korea one of the unusual things is that we export periwinkles (sea snails) which are deep-fried and eaten as an accompaniment to beer, like we eat peanuts or crisps in Ireland.

This opportunity was uncovered by working with exporters to identify a market that places a premium on a product not traditionally consumed in Ireland.

Similarly, in Japan, Irish beef tongue can be found on the menu of a large restaurant chain where the grass fed messaging and origin are clearly called out on the menu.

We see Irish milk on the shelves of one of the major retailers in the Philippines, and believe it or not, in my own market of Singapore Silver Hill, Irish duck is so popular there has been a restaurant designed around it.

What is the big news from the Irish government’s trade mission to Japan and South Korea this month?


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We’re using the trade mission to highlight Ireland’s offering in this context by targeting the best buyers in these sectors to meet with our travelling delegation.


We’ll also be officially launching Bord Bia’s first permanent presence in Tokyo where my colleague, Joe Moore, has recently joined the team and will represent Bord Bia in Japan and Korea.

In Seoul we’ll be launching the first year of a three-year part EU funded campaign highlighting EU Pork and Beef across Korea, Vietnam and Philippines.

This programme allows us to position Ireland to the fore of European exporters and build a database of key local stakeholders, buyers and influencers.

From a government to government perspective Minister Creed will be engaging with counterparts in Japan on market access for sheepmeat and in Korea on market access for beef.

How has Origin Green, Bord Bia’s sustainability initiative, helped raise the perception of Irish products in South East Asia?

The evolved consumer in Asia wants healthy, safe and sustainably produced food.

Europe has this reputation but the consumer wants proof and to compete in these markets you need to be able to articulate impeccable food safety and traceability standards.

Origin Green delivers on this and positions Ireland’s food and drink as a leader in sustainability.

It will be a most powerful tool of differentiation in these highly developed markets of discerning consumers who care where their food comes from.

Future plans?

In the short term I’ll be in Ireland next week with one of Thailand’s largest grocery chains visiting with prospective suppliers and meeting our farmers to truly understand what Irish food is about.

I’m also expanding my team in Singapore with the recruitment of a Market Specialist to support exporters further.

Through the Bord Bia Marketing Fellowship Programme, due to commence later this summer, its likely we will have additional people in Vietnam, Seoul, Tokyo and Singapore delivering insight and leads for Irish exporters in the region.

We have applications under consideration to unlock additional EU funding across beverages, pigmeat and dairy and lots of work to do to follow up on this month’s trade mission.

With this region predicted to expand by a further 100m people by 2050 the only certain plan for the future is that there will be lots of potential and lots to do to unlock it!

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