Plentiful supply and poor prices damaged beef sales but the outlook improved with the reopening of the US market according to Bord Bia (Irish Food Board) at the launch of its Export Performance and Prospects 2014/15 report.
"I am confident that the recent market access to the United States and the potential access for beef to China are reasons to look to 2015 with confidence," said Bord Bia chairman Michael Carey. Chinese veterinary experts recently visited Ireland with a view to opening that market.
Bord Bia is confident that with the US cattle herd contracting, and steer prices currently 25% higher than European prices (historically 15% - 20% lower) there is a "window of opportunity for Irish beef to build a premium position in the market".
Targeting the premium market with a ‘grass fed’ product has been questioned by American commentators stating that the shortfall in the US is for ‘ground’ or minced beef.
Padraig Brennan, senior business analyst and Bord Bia report author, told GlobalMeatNews that research over two years in the US had showed: "Irish beef has all the credentials to fit into the premium segment of that market. That is not to say that at different times the manufacturing market might be a viable one as well."
The overall value of beef exports showed little change during 2014 at €2.27 billion. The volume of beef available for export stood at around 530,000 tonnes, while average prices fell by around 11%. More than half of this went to the UK.
"The UK (market) is still critically important to us, it is about 270,000 tonnes which is up volume-wise by 8 or 9% while the value was back 2-3%," said Padraig Brennan.
Volume to continental Europe was up by 16-17% and offset lower prices somewhat. In 2015 volumes are expected to decrease by 10%.
The closure of the Russian market was a blow to beef exports but even more so to pigmeat. Volumes were up by 7% and there was a drop of 4% in average prices. The value of Irish pigmeat exports were just 3% higher in 2014 at €570m. Sales into Asian markets increased somewhat but 2015 will be very challenging.
Sheepmeat bucked the trend with lower export volumes but higher prices, leaving the value of exports marginally up to €218m. Boneless and high value cuts sold well, said Padraig Brennan, and retailers used "Irishness", the "family farm production system" and the premium nature of the lamb in branding.
In 2014 the value of Irish poultry exports increased by 20% to reach €310m.