foodHQ conducted an interview with Michael Hussey, Manager of Middle East Region at Bord Bia, Irish Food Board. Origin Green is Ireland’s food and drink sustainability program, uniting government, the private sector and food producers through Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board. Origin Green enables Ireland’s food industry to set and achieve measurable sustainability targets, establishing a baseline for continuous improvement.
foodHQ: What can you tell us about Bord Bia’s mission on the local and international level?
Michael Hussey: Bord Bia is an Irish Government agency that provides market information and insights, links Irish suppliers with potential export partners in each market and promote Irish food. We have 14 offices globally and the office for the Middle East region is based in Dubai. Ireland has a long history of supplying food to the region, historically beef and dairy products. Today, product coming to the GCC ranges from ice cream, poultry products, beef, seafood, yogurts, chocolate, bakery items to gluten free and health products. Last year we exported nearly USD360 million worth of food into the GCC and we are aiming to grow that to over USD560 million by 2020.
foodHQ: What is the concept of Origin Green sustainability program?
Hussey: Launched in 2012, Origin Green is the national sustainability program for the Irish food and drink industry. It is the only sustainability program in the world which operates on a national scale, uniting government, the private sector and food producers, through Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board. Independently verified at every stage, Origin Green enables Ireland’s farmers and food producers to set and achieve measurable sustainability targets, reduce environmental impact, and serve local communities more effectively.
foodHQ: How Origin Green program operates on farm?
Hussey: At farm level, Bord Bia Quality Assurance Schemes have been in place for over 20 years, auditing farmers every 18 months to ensure the production of safe, high quality food & drink measuring a broad spectrum of criteria including animal health, welfare and full traceability, water and feed, pasture management, environmental management, and farm safety. All Bord Bia Quality Assurance Schemes are accredited to the European Standard for Product Certification, ISO 17065: 2012. Since 2011, additional sustainability criteria have been added to Bord Bia Quality Assurance schemes in order to develop a carbon foot printing methodology across Irish farms. Bord Bia has undertaken over 150,000 carbon footprint assessments on a national scale to date, a world first. This process began with beef, followed by dairy and with plans in place to implement similar criteria across all other Bord Bia Quality Assurance Schemes. The aim is to lower the environmental impact and emissions burden of the farm, while also providing greater profit margins for the farmer. Independently accredited by the Carbon Trust to its PAS 2050 Standard, Bord Bia is auditing and carbon foot printing 800 farms each week. Since 2014, over 28,000 improvement targets have been established on Irish dairy farms. This commitment is set to continue and increase with the Irish dairy industry through the Origin Green program continuing to focus on additional areas, including biodiversity, water quality and soil fertility.
foodHQ: Do you think the Middle East is the most exciting region in the world to be in the F&B business?
Hussey: The Middle Eastern region needs to import food and there is an appetite for good quality food, produced under strict conditions and in a sustainable way. This offers our companies great potential. Consumers in this region have discerning tastes, are willing to try new product and are looking for a point of difference which Irish producers can provide. There is now much interest in health and wellness.
foodHQ: How do you describe your presence in the market in the MENA region?
Hussey: The Bord Bia office in Dubai covers all GCC markets plus Turkey, Iran, Jordan and The Lebanon, with the main focus currently on UAE and Saudi Arabia. We have four people in the office, working with many of the key retail and foodservice players looking for opportunities to build long term partnerships between Irish suppliers and local customers. Ireland exports almost 90 percent of the food it produces so it is a natural partner for GCC countries. In addition, Ireland is thinking about the long term, in that it is producing food in a more sustainable way. For example Ireland is one of the most carbon efficient producers of dairy products globally.
foodHQ: Why Bord Bia is exhibiting at Gulfood 2018?
Hussey: Gulfood is now one of the biggest food trade shows in the world. Bord Bia has exhibited as the Ireland stand for many years now. Last year for the first time, we had two stands, one in the National hall and the other in the Dairy hall. This year we will have 22 companies exhibiting in two stands across meat, dairy, confectionery, bakery and chocolate. Gulfood attracts some of our key existing customers and gives our clients a chance to engage with them. It also gives us a chance to meet some key new customers not only from the Middle East but from further afield, including Asia and Africa.
foodHQ: What you will promote at the show?
Hussey: We will be promoting Irish food from across the various sectors such as beef, cheese, other dairy products, confectionery, bakery and others. A key part of why we exhibit is to tell the story of how Irish food is produced in a sustainable way for future generations. 90 percent of food exports from Ireland is produced in accordance with our Origin Green principles.
foodHQ: What are your national and international plans for 2018?
Hussey: In terms of this region, we aim to grow our dairy exports on the back of increased supply of milk in Ireland. We are predicting further growth in production out of Ireland up to 2020 and beyond. Nearly all extra production will be exported into The Middle East and Asian markets as the European market is already well catered for. Therefore we are engaging with some of the key dairy ingredients users in the region to grow both existing business and develop new business partnerships.