A new organic industry strategy and a sustainability program are set to give Ireland’s organic sector a higher profile and increased exports.  

Ireland’s food, drink and horticulture exports reached EUR12.1 billion in 2018, two percent up by volume following a record year in 2017, with goods shipped mainly to the UK and the EU although exposure to other international markets is expanding.

Organic and Wellness News’ Warren Beaumont asked the Irish Food Board (Bord Bia) about Ireland’s organic food and drink market, growth and exports, and the Origin Green sustainability program.

Bord Bia research undertaken in 2017 shows that the Irish organic market is worth EUR162 million with a further EUR44 million generated by direct sales. “This research indicates that the Irish organic market grew by 10.5 percent in 2017, a very positive reflection on organic farming in Ireland and it mirrors a growing trend right across Europe,” Bord Bia said.

“The key channel for organic purchases is the supermarket/discounter with 70 percent of market share, just under EUR145 million of organic spend (Kantar Organics Report, 2017) in the Irish market being made in this channel, matching the international trend.”  

The top three performing organic categories were vegetables (22 percent of the total organic market), yogurt (17 percent) and fruit (12 percent) respectively. No figures have been published for Ireland’s 2018 domestic organic market.

“Ireland has also developed a strong reputation internationally for its organic farmed salmon. It is the biggest producer of organic salmon in the EU,” Bord Bia said. “Demand for Irish organic salmon has grown by 11 percent since 2012, with the estimated value of the export market in 2015, reaching EUR64 million.”

Bord Bia is also actively undertaking international research to explore better the potential for delivering Irish organic produce to target export markets. “In January 2019, a new Organic Sector Strategy was launched by the Irish government. This strategy is a demonstration of the ongoing commitment to the organic industry, supporting the development of Organic Food for the period up to 2025,” Board Bia said.

“The overall objective of the Strategy is to further develop a viable Organic Food Sector in Ireland, enhancing the sustainability credentials of Irish food by producing a wide range of organic products to meet increasing domestic and export market opportunities.”

Bord Bia’s role in the strategy is to develop and execute:

* An annual marketing strategy plan to target specific opportunities for organic products on domestic and international markets

* Identification of specific retail market opportunities for Irish organic horticulture

* Explore the potential for Irish organic meat in target export markets and market segments

* Promotional activities to increase consumer understanding of organic products.

International trade shows are an essential opportunity for Ireland’s organic producers and suppliers. “As worldwide demand for healthy, sustainable and trustworthy food choices grows, Irish organic producers are ideally positioned to meet global consumer needs,” Bord Bia said.

“International shows allow us to showcase the high-quality organic produce Ireland has to offer while providing Irish producers and processors an excellent opportunity to network with purchasing decision makers, both from Europe and further afield. 

Origin Green lifts sustainability, environmental targets  

An important program for food and drink companies, including organic ones, is the Origin Green program.

“Origin Green is the program that provides the proof that Ireland sustainably produces food,” Bord Bia said. “The Origin Green program supports both mainstream and organic producers. Several bodies in the country support organic producers through the organic conversion and certification process.

“Origin Green is the only food and drink sustainability program in the world operating on a national scale. It unites government, the private sector, and food producers through Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board. 

“Working across all levels of the supply chain, this independently verified program, enables Ireland’s farmers, food service, retail, and food operators to achieve measurable sustainability targets, reduce environmental impact, serve local communities more effectively and protect the precious natural resources that Ireland enjoys.

“Under the Origin Green Charter, food and drink producers make commitments under three key areas: raw material sourcing, manufacturing processes, and social sustainability. The charter enables food manufacturers to set and achieve measurable sustainability targets that help them reduce environmental impact, achieve efficiencies in the daily running of their businesses, improve their impact on society and most importantly, their overall bottom line as a business.”

Bord Bia added that the vibrancy of the Irish organic industry was seen in 2018 at the Bord Bia National Organic Awards, which took place in September 2018 and aim to celebrate the achievements of an increasing number of Irish organic food and drink growers and manufacturers. 

“An award in 2018 highlighted the innovation within the sector as demonstrated by Beechlawn Organic, for their compostable bio bag used on their curly kale product,” Bord Bia said.

“Overall prize winner Irish Country Meats Good Herdsmen Organic Half leg of lamb demonstrated the ability of organic to deliver on taste, value, and presentation for consumers.

“The Little Milk Company was also a category winner for their activities in the export category, demonstrating that a small sized Irish organic company can achieve success on the international markets.”

Ireland shows several examples of how sustainability is possible; the dairy industry is one of them. Only ten percent of milk production comes from grazing-based systems, while in Ireland over 90 percent of dairy cows are grass-fed and allowed to spend more time outdoors like nature meant cows to be.