In Asia, freshness and safety of food is important to consumers, and fresh milk is overtaking milk powder consumption in China.
Ireland’s premium as a food exporter is very much derived from food safety and sustainability, which gives it a competitive edge in Asia, the webinar heard.
Asia substantially lags behind in food productivity, although is catching up very fast.
From a food-security perspective, Asian countries should allocate their natural resources mainly towards grains and vegetables, the webinar heard from Dirk Jan Kennes, head of RaboResearch in Asia.
The webinar, held as part of Asia Business Week, also heard from Gareth McGeown, chief executive of Coca Cola in the Philippines.
He said that food production in Asia could not keep up with demand, given rising energy, oil, fertiliser, wheat, and wheat-product prices, especially now with war in Ukraine.
Importation was needed but there was a lot of political resistance to that in the Philippines, especially for key agricultural items, McGeown added.
Regulatory landscapes were also changing, and there was not one ASEAN standard, he said.
McGeown highlighted huge opportunities for beef imports from Ireland, but he said that this would require a presence on the ground, given differences in business culture.
Tom Arnold, Ireland’s Special Envoy on Food Systems, said the question was where did Ireland fit, as a relatively small producer, in these big markets.
Shane Hamill (Bord Bia Interim Director of Global Business Development) said that China, South-east Asia and Japan had enormous potential.
“What we found is that a lot of consumers in this part of the world don't know much about Ireland at all,” he commented.
The challenge is how to diversify into markets that are far away, with a lack of personnel on the ground.
Bord Bia now had offices in Singapore, Tokyo, and Shanghai, and was investing in that infrastructure, and focused on building a premium proposition for Irish food and drink, Arnold said.
Gail Carroll (Food Safety Authority) said that Asian consumers were highly focused on health, safety and quality.
“We'd like to think of ourselves in the FSAI as protecting not just consumers in Ireland, but also in 180 export markets,” she said.
“Ireland’s success in gaining and retaining access to international markets is directly related to our excellent reputation for food safety,” she stated.
“We're recognised as a leader in food safety,” Carroll said, adding that FSAI scientists set regulatory standards throughout the world.
The webinar heard from Conor Mulvihil, director of Dairy Industry Ireland, that Ireland exported 94% of its dairy produce, and that the industry was moving to a more nutrition and health-orientated approach in terms of adding value to the product.
Environmental sustainability would be a key part of capitalising on huge market opportunities, the webinar heard.
International markets were growing faster than European and British markets in terms of export growth, the event was told.
Dirk Jan Kennes said that the food market in Asia was expected to grow in value from €4 trillion to €8.4 trillion.
In a region with limited natural resources, there will be heavy focus on technology and disrupting traditional supply chains.
Digital farming and gene-editing would help Asia to bridge the gap between supply and demand, as well as cultivated meat, and vertical farming in urban ‘smart-city’ contexts, he said.
There are 13 mega-cities with more than 10 million people each located in Asia, and Singapore is leading the quest for urban smart-city farming.
Kennes said that China relied heavily on soybeans to feed its large population, but new US bio-fuels laws would disrupt that export trade, and divert it to jet fuel, which would create a shortage in the food market.
China must reduce reliance on soybeans and Premier Xi Jinping is already focused on food waste, and increased meat consumption.
China may professionalise the animal-protein industry and make people eat more meat, which has substantial environmental consequences.
Asia will drive the global food system from a demand perspective, from a disruptive perspective, and from a technology and supply-chain reorganisation perspective, he concluded.