Ireland was often held up as the example of a successful exporter, with a global reputation for high quality, sustainable produce.
The UK was a key market for Ireland, with similar tastes, climates and proximity boosting exports. But the UK could also learn lessons from the country.
Its success was built on collaboration between the Government, food and drink representatives and the farming industry, according to Bord Bia overseas trade manager Shane Hammill.
And this focus on export then benefited producers back at the farmgate, he said.
Irish food was marketed as a premium product, backed up with a quality assurance scheme.
“It ensures Irish food and drink is fully traceable, with the highest standards which are out there.”
Its marketing has been adapted to target what appeals in each country. For example, in Germany they played on the angle of family farms and grass-based production.
With a population of just five million, Ireland can feed 35m and Enterprise Ireland market adviser Shauna Higgins said this was down to the country’s agritech industry.
Enterprise Ireland is a Government organisation responsible for the development and growth of Irish enterprises in world markets.
The UK was seen as a natural extension of its market, with the climate and farming styles meaning the same machinery was in demand and Ms Higgins said people were exporting before they realised it.
“Ireland is a small open economy. Export is important to achieve sustainable business growth,” she said, adding it safeguarded businesses against ‘shocks’ in the domestic market.
Mr Hammill highlighted Kerrygold butter as an export success story which was the number one butter in Germany and number two in the US.
“It took more than 25 years. The biggest challenges are not having the language and not having the network.”
Both Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland had teams around the world, allowing companies to use their knowledge and expertise when accessing these markets.
And it was not just large companies benefiting.
“We have backed more than 130 companies in the start-up space,” Ms Higgins said, adding they introduced ‘disruptive’ technology and exports helped them build scale.
And the UK market would remain vital, regardless of Brexit, with exporters looking to enhance relationships with customers to continue in the future.
But they were also looking to opportunities around the globe.
IRELAND is also renowned for quality machinery around the world, with farmers and dealers looking for strong well-built machines.
Abbey Machinery, an Enterprise Ireland client, said knowing machines can withstand Irish conditions meant farmers knew they could rely on them.
Michael O’Grady, sales marketing and business adviser, said reputation was important, with potential customers often contacting them to ask if they could supply their country.
“In South Africa, we were recommended by UK customers.”
He added opportunities in Australasia helped balance demand year round.
“An average farm in New Zealand has 400 cows. But they have the same problems. They are trying to get as much out of grass as possible, with the same animal health problems, feeding problems, slurry problems.”
They were looking at bringing ideas from New Zealand back to their UK clients.
The biggest challenges for exporters were time differences and language barriers. He highlighted it was important to visit their markets, make sure brochures were translated, and listen to dealers on the ground. It was also key to have a good web presence.
Going forward, they were looking at opportunities in Central and Eastern Europe, the Gulf and Africa but he highlighted it was also important to service current markets.
Brexit was a concern, but he emphasised the UK would remain a big market for them ‘no matter what’.