Irish seafood companies seek inroads into US market

Published on
March 7, 2016

Irish seafood companies have arrived in force at Seafood Expo North America in search of entering the U.S. market with a slate of premium products.

Karen Devereux of Bord Bia, the Irish food board, said after being absent from the show for a number of years, her organization decided to host a pavilion at SENA in response to a recent surge in the growth of Irish seafood exports into the U.S. market. Ten Irish companies were exhibiting as part of the pavilion, with an additional three exhibiting elsewhere on the showroom floor, Devereux said.

“Right now, 60 percent of our exports are going to the E.U., and we’ve had increasingly strong growth into Asian markets, particularly China, but the U.S. market is a very small overall segment for us in an overall context – only about 5 to 10 percent,” she said. “However, we’re definitely seeing a pickup in opportunities for Irish products in the U.S., particularly in the premium end of the market.”

Ireland’s biggest seafood export is salmon, with annual production at around 15,000 metric tons per year. Much of that total is certified organic, Devereux said, which has been playing well at this year’s expo with buyers for higher-end U.S. supermarket chains.

Annette Rodgers, an account manager for Marine Harvest Ireland, which has salmon farms on the west coast of Ireland and estimated production of about 8,500 tons of organic salmon in 2016, said U.S. demand was strong for her company’s product. Rodgers said she’d been busy at SENA talking with reprsentatives from premium supermarkets.

“Demand in California has always been strong and now it’s growing in the Northeast and throughout the eastern seaboard. More and more people are looking to get Irish organic salmon in their stores,” Rodgers said. “The demand is there; the question is whether the supply is enough to meet the demand.”

Jacklyn O’Connor, the sales and marketing manager for Keohane Seafoods, a purveyor of both raw seafood and added-value, frozen ready-to-cook meals, said her company had started tailoring products to meet the demands of the American market and hoped to expand its business in the U.S.

“We’ve already had a couple of really good meetings,” O’Connor said.

She said while it was Keonhane’s third straight year at SENA, it was nice to have a larger-than-usual Irish delegation at this year’s event.

“The show has been busier than last year and there are a lot more companies interested in us,” O’Connor said. “It’s just great to have such a large Irish contingent here, and with the links between Boston and Ireland, it just feels like there are a lot of good connections happening.”

John Harrington, company co-director of Kush Shellfish, a producer of organic mussels and other shellfish in Kenmare, on the southwest coast of Ireland, was hoping to line up distributors serving the top end of the American market.

“We’re hoping to get a foothold in the American market. Trying to make the step of crossing the Atlatnic is a big step for us,” Harrington said. “Our mussels are more expensive than others but we reckon we have the best mussels around.”
By the afternoon of Monday, 7 March, just over halfway through the show, Devereux had already declared Ireland’s presence at SENA a success.

“Everybody’s been very happy and very busy yesterday and today, so hopefully that will convert into some business,” Devereux said.

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