Larry Goodman’s ABP Foods has become the first European company to sign a major deal to supply beef in the US since the lifting of the embargo.
The Louth-based processor has agreed to supply US giant Sysco, one of the world’s largest food distributors, in a deal said to be worth up to €15 million a year.
The company’s premium beef cuts will be sold to premium steak houses and restaurants through Sysco Metro New York and Sysco Boston, with the first shipments expected to commence next month.
ABP secured the US contract through its long-standing relationship with Sysco’s Irish subsidiary, Pallas Foods.
“We look forward to developing and growing our partnership with Sysco which will be key in helping us bring our sustainable, grass-fed, hormone free Irish beef to the plates of US consumers,” said ABP’s chief executive Paul Finnerty.
“Our initial focus will be on the northeastern region of the US where we will concentrate on establishing Irish beef in a sustainable and measured way,” he said.
The company could grow its annual exports of beef to the US well beyond the €15 million annual deal, Mr Finnerty said, stressing that the US market might be tougher than expected.
“This is a ruthlessly competitive market,” he told The Irish Times. “I think sometimes in the industry we tend to go from an extreme of pessimism to maybe extremes of optimism.
“The way I would describe today, it is a very important day for the industry. It is a very important market that has opened up.”
ABP and Sysco will target supplying Irish beef to high-end restaurants and the next level below that in the New York and Boston areas, playing on the grass-fed premium and to Irish-American diners.
Mr Finnerty said beef producers in Australia and Uruguay were selling grass-fed meat into the US market at lower prices than from Ireland, so Irish producers had to try to operate at the top end of the market, targeting the Irish diaspora.
Irish beef products would appeal to US consumers because of the health and nutritional benefits and the fact the meat comes from “extensive farming rather than intensive farming”, he said.
Michael Scanlon, president of Sysco, said the company sells about 10,000 items to around 1,000 customers, mostly restaurants, every day.
ABP has had a sales manager in the US for the past two years, in advance of the ban ending.
The company’s Clones, Co Monaghan processing facility is one of two plants already cleared by the Department of Agriculture to export to the US.
A number of other Irish meat processors are also understood to have applications pending with the department.
In 2013, the Silvercrest plant in Co Monaghan, then owned by ABP Foods, was at the centre of the horse meat scandal in Ireland after it was found to have manufactured a burger that contained horse DNA.
The addition of horse meat to beef products was later found to be a Europe-wide problem.
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney, who is on a three-day trade promotion mission to the US to mark the ending of the embargo, said ABP can be “very proud” to be the first European company selling beef into the US in 15 years.
“Partnering with large US food companies like Sysco is the perfect way to bring the taste and quality of Irish beef to US consumers, and I wish them every success in this venture,” he said.
Mr Goodman has been ABP’s executive chairman since 2008.
By Eoin Burke Kennedy, Simon Carswell