At the start of November, Nigel Walsh, Ulster Bank’s head of sectors and specialist sales joined 37 Irish companies on a five-day trade mission to China, a market of growing importance to Irish food producers. China represents a major prospect for the food and drink sector in Ireland – not least because of the sheer size of the market of over 1.3bn people. Ireland sees China as a key strategic trade partner.
China has a strong demand for imports of quality food, given the size of its population and concerns over food security and safety. In the first six months of this year, Ireland exported over €405 million in dairy, meats, beverages, seafood, and hides and skins to China. This was up from €300 million in the same period of 2013.
Diets in China and other developing economies are also becoming increasingly Westernised, which means, amongst other things, a growing demand for protein-based foodstuffs from sources such as dairy, beef, poultry and seafood. Foods like these from the island of Ireland are seen internationally as having high levels of traceability and safety, and are sustainably produced. These qualities are becoming ever more important to retailers and consumers.
Cities on the itinerary included Beijing, Shanghai, Qingdao and Hangzhou. Key objectives of the trade mission were to secure market access for Irish beef, to find more outlets for Irish dairy and infant formula, to showcase Ireland as a source of high quality, sustainably-produced dairy products, and expanding opportunities for the seafood sector.
The Irish food and drink export market is an industry that is performing well and has huge potential for growth. Nigel says,
“It is important that the sector has the support it needs to be able to grow and to deal with the inevitable challenges. Many food and drink businesses for instance have markets that are very seasonal in nature, with some making 80% of their sales in just six months of the year.
As a bank, we recognise this and are offering businesses support that is aligned to their needs, helping ensure that they have good cashflow throughout the year. At Ulster Bank, we can offer them a range of options to deal with this challenge. Invoice discounting, asset finance, asset backed lending, and trade finance facilities are just some of the many ways we are helping the local food and drink sector meet their changing cashflow, investment, and working capital needs.”