Despite the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Middle East has continued to strengthen its trade relationship with Ireland according to the Irish Food Board, Bord Bia. In 2022 exports of Irish food and drink to the region totalled 1.4 billion AED, an increase of 10% compared to the previous year. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) imported Irish food and drink goods worth 367mn AED; a 49% increase from last year.
The Middle East figures were revealed by Jim O’Toole, the newly appointed Chief Executive of Bord Bia during Gulfood, the largest annual food and beverage sourcing event. With Irish exports increasing throughout the Middle East, O’Toole will continue to drive the trade strategies to facilitate success and encourage new relationships with partners, chefs, and vendors in the region.
Jim O’Toole, CEO of Bord Bia said: “The last few years may have posed many challenges for the world yet the healthy export figures we have seen are truly testament to the resilience of the Irish food and drink industry. The Middle East is a market that values high quality products, and where Ireland is recognised for its excellence in producing sustainably produced products. In a region where as much as 80-90% of food is imported, we know that food security remains a key strategic and policy priority for Gulf states. Which is why, through Origin Green, Ireland’s national sustainability plan we are ideally positioned to meet this demand. Sustainability is at the heart of all of the work Bord Bia does with Irish food and drink companies, and despite the economic challenges that are predicted to lie ahead, we will continue to be agile, responsive, and aware of the demands that drive our sector of the economy.”
In 2022 Bord Bia embarked on its first trade mission, post pandemic, to the region, identifying UAE and Saudi Arabia as priority markets. During the trade mission, Bord Bia launched a new three-year strategy, ‘Nurturing a Thriving Future’, with the aim of increasing Irish food and drink exports to the Middle East up to 1.6 bn AED (€380mn) by 2025. Approaching this set target rapidly, Bord Bia attributes this growth in the report to the strong focus it places on quality, traceability, and sustainability, making Ireland a natural partner for a region highly dependent on imports to meet its food needs.
Last year, Bord Bia conducted an extensive research and survey to build understanding around the shifting priorities and demands of consumers in the region. The insights from the study have highly influenced the increase in the 2022 figures. Middle East imports continue to be dominated by dairy, and dairy ingredients worth 1.2 bn AED which is an 8% increase from 2021. However, the biggest increase in Irish food and drink import for Middle East last year was seen on drinks at 58% and on seafood estimated at 53%. Given the notably high Irish expatriate count, there was also a 20% increase on the supply of prepared consumer food.
Kieran Fitzgerald, Regional Director, Middle East, of Bord Bia added: “Over the last decade, we have been able to build, strengthen and grow the relationship between Irish producers and entities in the Middle East. Relationships like these have been instrumental in the growth of our businesses as well as diversifying the economy we all currently live in. We have also realised the true potential of an increasingly health-conscious market where consumer priorities are shifting with a greater value towards naturalness of products, country of origin, food safety standards, animal welfare, and sustainability practices. Acting on a similar vision where the future is nurturing, thriving and sustainable is something Ireland has in common with the goals set in the Middle East. We look forward to seeing the progress we make over the coming years as we unlock more opportunities.”
In June, Bord Bia will welcome a delegation of food and drink companies from the UAE and Gulf region to Ireland on a knowledge sharing programme to learn about Origin Green and the sustainability practices which are integral to Irish farming systems.