Love Irish Food aims to safeguard the future of food and drink brands produced in Ireland by helping shoppers make informed choices about buying Irish products. But businesses that produce food and drink in Ireland face a massive challenge in the form of Brexit.Kieran Rumley, executive director of Love Irish Food, said Britain’s impending exit from the European Union is a major threat. “Love Irish Food was set up in 2009 to combat the biggest threat then which was unemployment at 15%,” he said. “In fact, employment is the new big challenge that people face in trying to recruit. But now Brexit is a major threat for our SME members. The biggest issue is the uncertainty and the unknowns that it brings.”

Greencore chief executive Patrick Coveney this week warned the British government of food shortages in the UK if there is a hard Brexit. Mr Rumley agrees. “The UK is a major importer of grocery food items. It depends on a free flowing port system,” he said. “At any one time on British shelves, there’s probably no more than four days food supply and British retailers have been warning for quite a considerable period of time of the key issues associated with the absence of a free flow of trucks coming in and out of Britain.”

Mr Rumley said the same is true of Ireland. “It will pose its own issue because landbridge is one of the biggest sources of transport outwards and inwards for food manufacturers here in Ireland”. He said if there are delays in ports, it could cause a knock-on effect at production facilities with consequent effects on prices.

While the threat of Brexit is great, it does offer some food producers here opportunities. “We import 70% of our yoghurts into this country, and we perceive ourselves to be a dairy producer,” Mr Rumley said, “and yet in that situation, only 20% of the shelf facing is given over to Irish brands of yoghurts. When people see brands they think are Irish, they’re probably not,” he added.

He said consumers need to look out for the Love Irish Food logo, and be aware that brands that might have had a legacy in Ireland, or brands that sound Irish, are not always produced here.

The Love Irish Food logo launched the Brand development Award seven years ago. It gives Irish producers the opportunity to get their brands advertised nationally and build their brand profile in the market. “It’s funded by Exterion Media and they provide a two week national advertising campaign for a brand who wins the award, so it’s a tremendous incentive to get €80,000 worth of advertising into your pocket at the beginning of 2019 as you face a challenging year.”