While parent ABP Food Group is investing heavily in its operations so that it is able to compete with whatever the business faces post the UK’s exit from the EU, Kirwan would like the UK government to negotiate favourable terms with the European Commission for access to the single market once the UK leaves.
Specifically, Kirwan has called on UK negotiators to seek export quotas with the EU similar to those in place at the moment to ensure business continuity for food companies such as ABP.
“If we were to want something, it would be a tariff-free quota based on the volumes that were traded with the EU bloc at tonnages that were the same as over the past five or six years,” said Kirwan. “That at least allows businesses to continue.”
ABP Food Group is a 2.5bn turnover privately-owned pan-European business operating 46 sites in eight countries – the UK, Ireland, France, Austria, Denmark, Holland, Spain and Poland – with about 10,000 employees.
Beef and lamb production
Its operations are divided up into separate divisions covering beef and lamb production and processing, petfood manufacture, oil recovery and waste food management, and protein manufacture.
On the domestic front, Kirwan would also like to see more concerted action by the red meat industry to confront the tide of negative comments about the health consequences of consuming red meat.
Specifically, he would like to see greater dissemination of the importance of the essential vitamins and nutrients contained in red meat to a balanced diet.
“There is a lot of noise in the system on health grounds,” said Kirwan. “The new word is ‘flexitarian’ and it is something not to be afraid of. We as an industry must get our message across better than we have heretofore of the benefits of red meat in a balanced diet.”
Changing consumer demand
ABF has launched its Lean & Bean products and its Flexilicious sausage range that combines meat proteins with vegetables to meet changing consumer demand, Kirwan explained.
“We in the industry can react in our product development to the changing trend,” he added. “But the critical thing for us is to be stronger in getting our message across.
“I would much rather hear a far more robust, positive message coming back on red meat from the industry and the AHDB [Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, the levy-paying body that supports the red meat industry].
However, Kirwan is confident that the UK will continue to support the domestic red meat industry. “We are very lucky in that the British consumer we have is very, very loyal to us and we work very hard to ensure the quality of the product we supply them is consistent.”