Farm Week Column For 29th November 2018 – Michele Shirlow Chief Executive Food NI

Why we must continue to strengthen trade relationships with Irish Republic

Some fascinating trade statistics were published last week showing that trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic is at “an all-time high”. A survey by a leading market research firm found that shoppers from the Republic of Ireland spent around £60 million on groceries in Northern Ireland over the 12 months to the start of this month.

The value of cross-border trade, according to the latest figures from Kantar Worldpanel, is at its highest level for five years, with alcohol being the biggest attraction for shoppers looking for a cross-border bargain.

Of the £60 million spent by Republic of Ireland shoppers in Northern Ireland over the past year, a quarter went on alcohol, adding up to just over £12 million, according to Kantar. No other food or drink category came close, with dairy products accounting for the next largest share of cross-border spend, at almost six percent.

Any barriers along the border would clearly be likely to damage the economies of both Northern Ireland and the Republic and must be avoided. Unhindered access to the Republic could also enable our manufacturers to export to other markets in the EU.

Over the past year just over one in eight households from the Republic, according to Kantar, made at least one trip north of the border to do a grocery shop, equating to more than 207,000 shoppers.  Many surely enjoyed meals here, bringing tangible benefits to the local catering sector.

The statistics demonstrate that it’s vitally important to maintain free and easy access between the two parts of the island. They also indicate the extent of the business opportunity for our retailers and local suppliers, many of which already have their food and drink products listed by them.

Our tourism industry, furthermore, is benefitting substantially from the growth in visitors from the Republic.

The shopping trips also help to introduce shoppers from the south to our products and could lead them to look for these in retailers closer to home.

Food NI, of course, would wish to see many more local products on their shelves and has been working with retailers to achieve this, supporting ‘meet the buyer’ initiatives by Invest NI.

We also actively encourage our member companies to explore business in the Republic, our largest export market and one in which smaller companies are able to ‘cut their teeth’ before venturing into other more distant regions.

The Republic is currently worth around £700 million a year to our food and drink producers. It’s for these reasons that we are keen to develop closer ties with our counterparts in the Republic and thereby help boost our food and drink and hospitality industries.

And there have been a number of recent successes involving smaller companies such as Glastry Farm Ice Cream, Tom&Ollie, Carol’s Stock Market , Clandeboye Estate Yoghurt and Irish Black Butter.

Kantar found that each shopper from the Republic spent over £30 on an average shop in Northern Ireland while the average spend back home was upwards of £20.

This support helps sustain and create employment in Northern Ireland shops, processors, farms and catering establishments

Of course the situation has also been shaped by the strength of the euro against sterling over the past two years, which has made cross-border shopping much more appealing to families in the Republic.

While currency rates fluctuate and have been unfavourable to Northern Ireland in the past and may be so again, nevertheless there can be no denying the importance of keeping the border open for the benefit of our food and drink processors and catering sectors.