Dáil debates

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

3:00 pm

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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Question 6: To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine the progress made to date in the creation of an umbrella brand for Irish food and drink brand Ireland as outlined in July 2010 with the publication of Food Harvest 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14607/12]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Collins raises the issue of the need to create an umbrella brand for Irish food. We are lucky to have a body in Ireland responsible for branding Irish food, trying to build our international reputation as a sustainable, safe, green, tasty source of food. We are trying to create that image, whether it is in dairy, beef, lamb, seafood or whatever. I think Bord Bia is doing a particularly good job at that. I have travelled with Bord Bia extensively, as recently as the last few days in the Brussels, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Wherever I go, the Bord Bia message is the same in respect of the brand it is trying to build around Irish food.

Bord Bia's motto is not just saying that Ireland has the most sustainable, high quality food in the world; it is about proving it. It is putting in place a series of mechanisms which can back up the public relations message with data. An example of this is the beef quality assurance scheme, whereby with every week that passes, we put a carbon footprint on another 500 farms. By the end of this year, we will have put carbon footprints on 32,000 beef farms in Ireland. In other words, we can put a carbon label on the steaks that come from those farms, if we wish to do so in the future. We are about to do the same in the dairy industry. We are going to roll out a quality assurance scheme that will be about managing and calculating the carbon footprint of the herds that produce milk. It will not just be about climate change and emissions; it will also be about the responsible use of water. We also have a whole series of disease controls.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Food Harvest 2020 recognised the need to develop and strengthen the pre-existing strengths of the agrifood industry in Ireland. It has set out very ambitious targets in the dairy sector and in all mainstream enterprises in agriculture. It states that the exports of food and beverages will increase by one third to €12 billion annually. We can increase the value of primary production by our farmers and fishermen by €1.5 billion and value added in processing by €3 billion. The ending of the milk quota system in 2015 - if we can get there safely - will see perhaps at least a 50% increase in the production of liquid milk and dairy products in Ireland.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Have you a question, Deputy?

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Quite clearly, we are going to be in an entirely different and much more demanding marketing situation. The Minister's predecessor, Deputy Brendan Smith, initiated trade missions to China, Japan and the US. I would like the Minister to tell us about the successes and the establishment of the pathway which those missions set out to do, the progress that has been made, and the proactive marketing arrangements that have been put in place in these destinations.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I can understand why the Deputy would like to recognise the work of my predecessor, and I would like to do that too. Food Harvest 2020 was put in place during the lifetime of the previous Government. It was one of the really good things that was done during that period. I would like to think that we are implementing that document in a really ambitious way. In fact, we have upgraded some of the targets. For example, we have doubled the beef target from a 20% increase in the value of beef exports by 2020 to a 40% increase due to the increase in the commodity prices of beef.

The Deputy is right. After 2015, we will be operating in an open dairy market. We will have to find a buyer and a home for all of our increased production in volume terms, apart from in the specialist artisan foods areas where we target the home market. Many of those new markets for our product need to be in the new exciting markets we are currently exploring. I am going to China next month, the following month I will go to the United States and I will probably be in Russia in the autumn. Representatives of some 50 to 60 food companies will go to China with me next month.

The beauty of the Food Harvest approach is that whether one is a farmer, a processor, a co-operative or a seller of food abroad in the food sector or one is an academic or a civil servant, everybody operates to the business plan and to the same timeframe. Part of that business plan is to build a strong brand and reputation for Irish food that will result in our being able to increase our market share, particularly the premium market share where we can get more value for our food in the new markets that are emerging.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Has the Minister had any discussions with State agencies such as Bord Bia and Bord Fáilte to progress what is envisaged in Food Harvest 2020 in terms of developing an umbrella structure for brand Ireland in the food sector?

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I will take two brief questions from Deputies Naughten and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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I have two brief questions for the Minister. What timetable does he envisage for the new distinctive brand Ireland, which is crucially important as a marketing tool? Has any consideration been given to establishing a separate quality brand that would be owned and controlled by our own food agencies but not specifically branded as Irish? Countries have a reputation for the production of certain artisan or other food products such as the French in the case of pastries, the Germans in the case of cured sausages and the Swiss in the case of chocolate. Companies in Ireland that can compete internationally at a competitive price level in the market for these food products but they need an overarching brand for that, one not necessarily associated directly with Ireland but controlled as a marketing tool on behalf of Ireland.

Photo of Luke FlanaganLuke Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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The Minister mentioned how we might be able to get a premium from developing our brand. It is accepted that perception and brand are very close bedfellows. Given that is true, what good does the Minister envisage will come out of the GM potato trials in Carlow when it comes to our reputation and brand, bearing in mind that the perception in Europe is that this is not good thing? I am not referring to the science, whether that is good or bad, but to the perception and branding. How does the Minister think that will help us to get a premium?

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I speak to Bord Bia about this issue all the time. The work on brand Ireland has already begun and is under way. When I am abroad I speak all the time about the beef quality assurance scheme and about the fact that Ireland is the first country in the world essentially to carbon footprint the food we produce. We are about to roll that out on the dairy side as well. It is important to make the distinction between a label, a slick PR message and a logo and what a brand is about. Reputations are hard won, particularly in the food industry.

Photo of Patrick NultyPatrick Nulty (Dublin West, Labour)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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What we are about is winning that reputation by providing data, back-up and science to support our claims. That is tedious work in terms of going on to farms, crunching the numbers with farmers and being able to back up everything we say. That is the type of work that is ongoing at present. Added to that, we are trying to build a PR brand around the attractive imagery that should be coming from all the hard work we are doing around building that reputation. The brand attached to Irish food is essentially a promise that when one buys Irish food, whether it be Jameson Whiskey or a nutritional drink from the Carbery Group, one associates it with quality, top quality food science, safety and sustainability. They are the buzz words we are trying to build into one message. I would be hopeful that by mid-summer we will have a logo that tries to represent all those things. Bord Bia is working hard on it. It is, however, difficult to decide whether we should have a punchy, strong brand or whether we should have a watermark that covers the existing strong brands because Irish brands are already very strong in some areas, particularly in the drink side. Bord Bia wants to get that message right and wants buy-in from the industry. I hope we will have a logo to go with the message by the end of the summer.

People have raised their concerns about the GM issue and Teagasc has responded comprehensively to the concerns raised in the Irish Farmers Journal last week. I do not know if the Deputy had a chance to read it.

Photo of Luke FlanaganLuke Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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I did indeed and I do not accept it.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy is entitled to that view.

Photo of Luke FlanaganLuke Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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The vast majority of Europe has the same view, whether it is right or wrong.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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There are perception issues with GM foods but we are also trying to develop a reputation for developing research capacity in food in Ireland. This is where the initiative comes from in Teagasc's view. If we can be at the forefront in developing crop varieties by using GM, we should not discount it because consumers have a perception of GM. It is about balancing the two.