Irish food takes on foreign threats

Will renewed demand for local produce, good stories, and craft beer fight-off the Brexit blues?

Busy lifestyles mean that Irish people are eating out more and more - pubs, cafes, restaurants, convenience stores, and even petrol stations are all battling to attract hungry punters.

Maureen Gahan from Bord Bia joined Bobby Kerr on Down to Business, she believes that as we are eating on the go more, people are becoming increasingly conscious of their food choices.

Bord Bia

"One of the big areas that we are seeing [growth in] is health and wellbeing - that's here to stay," she told Newstalk, pointing to the success of chains like Chopped, Sprout and Fresh.

Ms Gahan added that traceability and transparency are becoming increasingly important, with dinners seeking local ingredients and that consumers are increasingly interested in understanding the stories and personalities behind emerging Irish brands.

Irish food in 2017

Adrian Cummin, chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland and Licensed Vintners Association CEO Donall O’Keeffe also joined the show to discuss the evolution of Ireland's food sector.

Against the Grain / Facebook

Once upon a time, it would have been strange to have a representative of a publican group discussing dining - but Mr O'Keeffe stressed to Bobby that food is now a "critical" element of the pub trade.

"Food as a percentage of turnover has gone from 10% of turnover a decade ago to 30% today," he told Newstalk, he believes that only 10 to 15 'trophy pubs' in Dublin could survive today solely off of beverage sales.

There has been a "steady long-term growth in food service" in pubs as they fill a gap in the emerging market for "casual dining" out and about.

When it comes to telling the story of your business, few sub-industries have been more successful than Irish craft brewers.

"It's got a lot of attention, it's a good news story at every level. It's craft breweries in Ireland using Irish ingredients, brewed by Irish people, sold in Irish pubs," the pub group representative said, adding that Irish gin and whiskey are also in the midsts of a major revival, as these offerings and hearty pub grub become an integral part of the industry.

Disruption

However, it is not all smooth sailing as Brexit and currency fluctuations cause headaches for the sector.

One primary concern is a loss in value as the purchasing power of sterling falls - and how this will impact on the number of British travellers coming to Ireland and filling pubs and restaurants here.

"We don't really know what's going to happen in 2017. Their booking pattern is very short term," Adrian Cummin cautioned, adding that booking patterns from Britain can be difficult to read as trips are often planned with little notice.

Bord Bia

His group has been fighting for the special 9% VAT rate granted to the industry to be maintained as it recovers. He warns that away from the capital and marquee routes like the Wild Atlantic Way - many Irish businesses continue to struggle.

"We're the forgotten sector with regards to training at the moment in Ireland," he told Newstalk. A shortage of trained chefs has led to Irish employers looking to areas like Eastern Europe to source staff to "fill the vacuum."

Bord Bia's Maureen Gahan said that while Irish businesses in the UK are hoping to cement their positions in its competitive market - Irish firms are increasingly looking to the rest of the EU and further east to explore new markets as Britain prepares to leave the EU.

The panel joined Bobby ahead of CATEX, Ireland’s largest hospitality event which gets underway on Thursday. February 23rd in Dublin's RDS.