Consumer foods group predicts boom in exports and more jobs

Predictions for thousands of new food processing and other value-added jobs, and a “significant” rise in prepared consumer food exports will be unveiled in the coming months — when a new consumer foods action group delivers quantified analysis of the processed side of Food Harvest 2020’s targets.

Launched in 2010 by then taoiseach Brian Cowen, FH2020’s overall goal was to take agri-food exports from around €8bn to €12bn by 2020. It was forecast that 3,500 to 4,000 jobs would be created. Those figures are now under review.

The export figures are on target — or arguably even ahead of target. Last year’s total agri-food exports came to nearly €10bn. The group says the processed goods sector offers the greatest impact in terms of new jobs and broader added value to the domestic economy.

Colin Gordon, chairman of Ibec’s Food and Drinks Industry Ireland, said the Prepared Consumer Foods Activation Group is still working on the numbers and overall economic value which prepared consumer food exports can be expected to deliver.

Mr Gordon, who is also chief executive of Glanbia Consumer Foods, said the new group will deliver robust figures quantifying the processed food sector’s ambitions by late April or early May. Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney expects to roll out findings by June.

“We have initial estimates, and we are validating all the numbers,” Mr Gordon said. “We can say that the export boost will be significant and the numbers of jobs will be in the thousands.

“Prepared consumer food jobs are of great value, both in quality and economic value. The opportunity is not just in the outputs, but in terms of inputs through the technology behind ingredients, packaging, food science, and marketing, etc.

“These are all highly skilled, sustainable jobs. Consumer foods tend to energise many other areas of the economy, with benefits for many other areas as well as the obvious gains for food enterprises.

“At the minister’s request, we will try to quantify FH2020’s economic impacts. Dairy and beef exports are very important, but the greatest benefits in economic terms will come from prepared consumer foods.”

Mr Coveney has named former Enterprise Ireland chief executive Frank Ryan as chair of the new consumer foods group, formed to identify the actions needed to maximise economic benefits from prepared consumer foods exports.

Projected against a 2008 output baseline, FH2020 has targeted a 40% export increase in prepared consumer food exports. It also projected a 40% 10-year target for overall food and beverage exports.

FH2020 also provides sector-specific projections for likely export increases. For instance, milk output is to grow by 50% and beef by 20% (the beef activation group said beef might, in fact, exceed 40%).

Mr Coveney and industry partners have always signalled that food processing and its aligned services would deliver the most significant benefits.

“Food Harvest sets an ambitious target of €3bn in additional output in the value-added sector,” Mr Coveney said. “This level of ambition is fully justified because the sector is a significant growth area. Prepared consumer foods are a real driver of that dynamic, both in volume and value terms, with significant potential for employment creation and growth in the domestic economy and in exports.”

In 2013, Ireland exported €1.65bn in prepared ready meals, €1.25bn in beverages, and €520m in seafood products. An export boost of 40% from these three categories could add €1.4bn, bringing processed food exports up to €5bn by 2020. Overall, the value added sector is expected to deliver an extra €3bn boost over the same period.

Mr Coveney said the new consumer food group will have the full co-operation of his department and relevant state agencies. It will prepare its list of recommended actions to the FH2020 high-level implementation group, chaired by Mr Coveney.

Board members of the new consumer group include: Peter Cullen, Aran Candy; Vincent Carton, Carton Brothers; Larry Murrin, Dawn Farm Foods; Colin Gordon, Glanbia Consumer Foods; Eddie Power, Green Isle Foods; Jim McNeill, Kellogg Ireland; Ado Carton, Kerry Foods; Maurice Hickey, Largo Foods; Justin Cook, Mondelez Ireland; Paddy O’Callaghan, Nature’s Best; and Seamus Kearney, Valeo Foods.

The group requested that Mr Coveney appoint an independent chair. Frank Ryan retired from his role as Enterprise Ireland CEO at the end of last year. He also chairs IDA Ireland.

Mr Coveney said: “Frank Ryan is well respected within the sector and has the appropriate knowledge and experience of the interface between the private and public sectors to ensure that its work is fruitful and makes a valuable contribution to the process of delivering on the Food Harvest targets.”

Mr Gordon said the new group is a recognition of the critical role played by the prepared consumer foods sector in adding value and creating employment in the Irish economy.

Mr Coveney said that he was confident the consumer foods group would bring a renewed focus on the development of that sector and make a significant contribution to ensuring it reaches its potential.


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