Derry food firm Foyle is first to put Irish beef on China's plate

Gary McDonald Business Editor

A DERRY-headquartered food firm has become the first in the European Union to put Irish beef back on people's plates in China in nearly two decades.

Beef from the Foyle Food Group has officially gone on sale online for the first time on Alibaba's Tmall Supermarket and Yiguo Fresh platforms for consumers in the Shanghai region.

China banned beef from the EU and US during the BSE crisis in 2000, and although the ban was officially lifted three months ago, trade only resumed in the last few days.

And Foyle Food Group subsidiary Donegal Meat Processors in Carrigans is the first of three Irish factories approved to ship frozen boneless beef to China after meeting strict criteria following rigorous audits (the others are the Goodman-owned ABP Clones and Slaney Foods in Co Wexford).

Donegal Meat Processors have made six separate products available - short ribs (thin/thick slice), brisket (thin slice), shin/shank, rib fingers and oysterblade (thin slice) - for the Chinese market.

Indeed such was interest in their products that a live-stream demonstration by Shanghai celebrity chef Jacqueline Qiu showing how to cook the short ribs, brisket and shin/shank watched by close to 40,000 consumers earlier this week.

Foyle Food Group's international sales manager Marie Di Bartolo told the Irish News: "This is a pretty significant deal for us, but there's a long road ahead and much work still to be done.

"Things have moved pretty quickly after the 18-year ban was lifted in April, and now that Irish beef is approved for China, we wanted to be the first to export there and sell online.

"There is huge potential for Irish beef products in what is a massive market.

"Tmall is owned by Alibaba Group and is the largest consumer ecommerce platform in China, with 500 million monthly active users. Some 75 per cent of meat sold online is beef, so it's a great opportunity for us."

Initially the Foyle Group - which has the capacity to process 300,000 cattle a year across its five primary processing locations in Ireland and Britain - will export 25 tonnes of primal cuts a week to Shanghai, ready for packaging in China, but it expects this figure to increase significantly.

The first batch of meat was flown to Shanghai from Dublin Airport, reaching its destination in under a day, but future exports will go by sea, which will take around six weeks.

The initial export market for frozen Irish beef in China is estimated at a value of €100 million (about £88m), but this may be just the tip of the iceberg as consumption is growing rapidly among the expanding Asian middle class.

Ireland's Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said: "For beef, the door has now been opened and there is a real opportunity for the industry to build on this."

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