CHICAGO — “Food is our oil,” said Tara McCarthy, chief executive officer of Bord Bia, The Irish Food Board, on April 25 at Food Evolution Chicago: A Forum on the Future of Food.

“Food is our natural resource. Ireland is very green.”

Green is in terms of pasture as well as the country’s sustainability efforts. It’s also a nod to the financial investment by the government to attract food companies and entrepreneurs from around the world to set up business in Ireland.

The event, which was hosted by Enterprise Ireland, highlighted Ireland’s history in the agricultural sector and how global agri-business leaders are increasingly turning to Irish ag-tech innovators for solutions. It’s what the delegates describe as “The Irish Advantage.”  

“Ireland’s food ecosystem is delivering major strides in food innovation with a focus on sustainability, thanks to a set of unique conditions, including high-quality raw materials, world-class research and development facilities, a skilled workforce and a government that invests in innovation,” said Alexa Toomey, head of dairy, drinks and food foreign direct investment for Enterprise Ireland. “If your business is focused on the evolution of food, Ireland is the place to visit. Ireland’s government can provide significant support at each stage of your journey, while an ecosystem of indigenous companies, multinationals and research institutes offers exciting partnership opportunities.”

Leo Clancy, CEO of Enterprise Ireland, said, “Supporting companies on their growth journey means supporting local and national economies, as well as job creation for future generations. Our mission is to help accelerate the development of world-class Irish companies to achieve leading positions in global markets, and this means supporting Irish founders and their hard-working teams from the beginning.”

Irish food and drink exports reached more than 180 countries in 2021. Sales were valued at €13.5 billion, an increase of 4% on 2020.

“Our industry has shown remarkable resilience and solidarity in the face of the challenging trading environment brought about by COVID-19 over the last two years, all of which has had a huge impact on the retail and foodservice sectors,” McCarthy said.

This past March, timed with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, Bord Bia presented a basket of “Origin Green” verified Irish food and drink products to First Lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris during a White House visit. Kerrygold butter was one of the many items in gifted.

Origin Green is Ireland’s pioneering food and drink sustainability program that operates on a national scale. It unites government, the private sector and the full supply chain, from farmers to food producers and right through to foodservice and retail sectors. The program is the world’s only national food and drink sustainability program and enables the industry to set and achieve measurable sustainability targets that respect the environment and serve local communities more effectively.

“For individual Irish companies to succeed in the market, we know it is critical that awareness of Ireland as a source of quality, sustainable ingredients is amplified,” Ms. McCarthy said. “Eighty percent of the companies we work with have said that Origin Green gives them a commercial advantage.”

Origin Green collaborates with more than 55,000 farms and 300 Irish food and drink companies to prove and improve the sustainability of the food they produce to meet the evolving needs of global customers. Verified Origin Green members account for 90% of Ireland’s food and drink exports and more than 70% of the retail market. The Origin Green logo is a business-to-business logo and cannot be used on product. It can be used by verified members in business-to-business communications and on materials in order to highlight their participation in the Origin Green program to their customers and suppliers.

This is unlike the Bord Bia quality mark, which is a logo used on food products that have been produced and processed by Bord Bia certified members. This means that it can only be used by food producers and processors who have undergone an independent audit and have been found to be compliant with the appropriate Bord Bia quality assurance standards.

Kerrygold products are Origin Green and Bord Bia certified. Stephen McDonnell, sales director for Ornua, the Irish cooperative that produces Kerrygold butter and cheese, explained how Irish awareness has made Kerrygold the No. 2 brand of butter in the United States since its soft launch in 1999. The butter is bright yellow, the result of cows grazing on beta-carotene-rich grass. This also produces what some describe as a “movie-theater popcorn richness.” Its dense and pliable composition — it is at least 82% butterfat compared to most American-made butters that are required to only contain 80% butterfat — renders it spreadable right out of the refrigerator.

“Ornua is one multinational that has taken work developed here across the globe,” said Mark Fenelon, professor and head of the food research program at the Moorepark Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation Center, which is operated by Teagasc, a state agency. “That started with research into cheese manufacturing and ended in building an entirely new factory in Saudi Arabia.

“We’re the only place in the world where multinationals can take research from soil to finished product in one place.”