Upon the breaking of the story yesterday of supermarket chain “the Co-op’s” intentions to follow a British only policy, many are disgruntled at the situation.
As reported yesterday the chain announced its decision to stop sales of Irish beef, whilst also encouraging chief importers Sainsbury’s and Tesco to follow suit.
Upon hearing the news the President of ICMSA, John Comer, expressed a deep concern about what he said was a “clumsy and unfeasible idea that challenges centuries of food trade between Ireland and Britain”.
Mr Comer also added that everyone – including supermarket chains – should operate on the basis of patience and progress towards a deal that will work for both parties and enable the continuation of centuries old trades between the different states and parts of Europe.
He said he thought calm and some level of realism was required and said that premature and aggressive calls for the expulsion of non-British foodstuffs from supermarket shelves was ramping-up feeling and sentiment. Mr Comer also made a note of the fact that it would be impossible for the UK to meet its food requirements on its own and that Irish food is a preferred option in British shops and amongst British consumers. He also says this has been the case for hundreds of years.
The Co-op although,having made these announcements yesterday, are not a customer of the Irish beef trade and has not sourced Irish beef for over a decade.
The company has its own British sourcing policy for beef, pork, poultry and lamb for years now.
The Co-op has regularly stated their unwavering commitment to British Agriculture. They also have recently always had the ambition to source as much British produce as possible.
The company shared farming interests up until 2014 when they were sold. They promote themselves as ‘Britain’s Biggest Farmer’ and has a market share of 6.1% of total grocery and a share of 3.8% in beef.
As we all know well at this stage, the Irish beef industry still provides the UK with a high level of product. It is listed in the three largest retailers in the UK, namely Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda. The beef sector (Irish) has a combined share of 59.2% of total grocery and a combined share of 47.7% of beef.
Irish beef is sold alongside British beef in each of these three UK retailers and to this day remains very popular, if not the preferred option to UK consumers.
They are all sold at the same price, and form part of a continued commitment to sourcing Irish beef as part of their ‘British Isles’ sourcing policy.
To help ease our worries and skepticisms it is worth noting that an Bord Bia regularly undertakes meetings with customers for Irish beef. As a result they have received a continued commitment from these companies to pursue sourcing Irish beef, and reassurances that their long held sourcing strategy will not change.
As previously mentioned earlier in this article the UK is far from self sufficient when it comes to beef. In fact it requires up to 35% of the areas beef consumption numbers in order to meet demand.
These numbers, Domestic UK beef supplies, are predicted to tighten further this year. This will therefore increase the need for imports to meet current consumption levels. Ireland accounts for 70% of the UK’s imported beef. The nearest competitor in the UK market is Holland with 7%.
Research carried out on 1,229 UK consumers by Bord bia back in 2016 found that 71% of UK consumers were aware of Ireland’s Beef exporting fame worldwide. Whilst awareness of other exporting countries was much lower (Argentina-69%, Wales-44%).
When questioned on the likeliness of purchasing Irish beef from the supermarket, numbers remained high. 76% of consumers said they would purchase Irish beef products while only 6% stated that they wouldn’t. These numbers compared to 32% of UK consumers saying they would purchase Australian beef products. A higher 85% of people surveyed said they would buy British beef.
Although not much is certain with regards Brexit and any impending implications on Ireland, the UK and the EU as a whole.But what is certain is that the Irish beef industry still holds the respect and confidence of its foreign consumers.