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Looking beyond dairy

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RITIKA SHARMA / EMIRATES BUSINESS

Michael Hussey, Bord Bia’s market manager for Middle East Region, opened the brand’s first office in early 2014 to support the Irish food industry in the region. Michael has been with the company since 2001, as senior sector manager with responsibility for the dairy and ingredients sector during which he developed the ‘Origin Green’ marketing strategy for the dairy industry.
Having acquired a broad knowledge of the industry, he has also worked as sector manager for frozen and chilled foods and held responsibility for the Dutch and Scandinavian markets for consumer foods.
On the sidelines of Gulfood 2016, we speak to him about the food-trade ties between Ireland and UAE, the concept of sustainability in food
sector and more.

EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW

Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, works in partnership with the industry in developing markets and promoting Irish food and drink in the UAE. What are the main challenges you have faced while promoting Irish produce in this region?
Irish brands are relatively unknown to the general consumer in the UAE. We have been working with the retailers and distribution partners to get the word out there about great Irish brands. Logistics of getting the products into the market also poses a challenge, especially with short shelf-life products. However, our suppliers have streamlined their systems over the years.

Can you tell us about the sustainability development programme Bord Bia has created to internationally demonstrate the commitment of Irish food products? Where does the term ‘Origin Green’ come from?
Origin Green is Ireland’s aim to become world leader in sustainable food industry.
With the global population expected to rise manifold before the year 2050, the world will need to produce up to twice as much food from increasingly limited resources. It has been said that over the next 40 years, we will have to produce as much food as we had in the last 8,000 years. In order to meet these challenges, it requires everyone involved in the food industry to commit to producing more from less, necessitating the adoption of more sustainable practices. It is with these challenges in mind which led to the launch of Origin Green, an initiative by Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board. Origin Green is the first national sustainability programme of its kind.
It so happened that the Irish Government set out a strategy for Ireland’s globally focussed food industry through Food Harvest 2020, and a key element of the sustainability pillar of this strategy is Origin Green. Launched in June 2012, Origin Green clearly outlined its aim to have every farm and food manufacturing business in Ireland, working each year to lower their carbon footprint while playing a proactive role in the wellbeing of their local environment.
Working at both farm and manufacturing level, Origin Green clearly sets out Ireland’s ambition to become a world leader in the delivery of sustainable, high-quality food products. Independently verified at every stage, this voluntary programme sees food manufacturers develop a sustainability plan that defines clear targets in key areas, such as raw material sourcing, emissions, energy, waste, water, biodiversity and social sustainability. Origin Green is fronted by internationally renowned, young Irish actor Saoirse Ronan.

Irish foods are famous throughout the world; mainly known for beef and diary products. As there is a large expatriate community across the UAE, how are you marketing these brands to gain brand awareness in this region?
We have done in-store promotions in the past, especially around St. Patricks day, including Twitter and Facebook. Also, the Irish Business Network is greatly attended by the Irish community here in Dubai. We have linked with them through sponsorships and are working with them as a platform to promote Irish foods in the UAE.

Have you found the Emirati market a challenge in terms of product awareness?
Yes it is a challenge — Ireland has very strong links with the UAE through horse racing and sports.
The Emirati markets know Ireland and know our green and clean credentials. They know our good quality food as we have had a long history of doing business in UAE in the segments like beef and dairy products.

Irish brands are stocked in some of the most established restaurants and hotels across the region. How have Bord Bia managed to secure these accounts in hotels such as the Burj Al Arab?
We have secured them through key partners. We work with key retailers and FS distributors here on an ongoing basis and also keep in touch with
Ireland on a daily basis. So we are aware about the areas of interest from these establishments in regards to stocking Irish brands.
The Irish authorities opened their local office in Dubai two years ago to meet the local partners. Can you tell us about interest you have had from local supermarkets and retail outlets?
Engaged with all major retailers, we have found great interest in stocking Irish products. Walk into any of the major retail outlets in UAE, you will find Irish products on the aisles. Retail outlets in the UAE want to stock Irish brands because they are aware of the quality of all our foods.

The GCC, especially UAE and Saudi Arabia, are the biggest markets for Irish food products. Last year, Ireland saw a 14 percent increase in volume of export of 280 million Euros. What are the plans to increase this further?
The Irish government has set up targets to double this by 2020 across region.This growth will come from all sectors — dairy, prepared food, meat and sea-food targeting retail food-service across all sectors. It is a work in progress, however, there is a strong interest there from all markets in the GCC. We are happy to continue to build on these relationships and grow the market.

Gulfood is one of the biggest trade fairs in the food industry in this region. What is your experience?
This year’s show was a big hit. Really a very busy affair for all the stackholders. We would ideally love to get more space as we had seen great interest from clients wanting to exhibit at the world’s biggest food and hospitality show like this.
Our experience is amazing as we have had interest from all regions of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. They are so impressed with the quality of Irish foods. The platform offered by Gulfood to the food industry is invaluable, I am sure we will be attending this exhibition for many years to come.

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