Brexit is 'an opportunity' says 'Cashel Blue' cheesemaker

Eoin Kelleher

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Eoin Kelleher

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eoin.kelleher@gmail.com

Brexit is 'an opportunity' says 'Cashel Blue' cheesemaker

Britain's exit from the European Union could hand a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for artisan foodmakers in rural Tipperary to expand their continental exports, says Sarah Furno of Cashel Blue Cheese.

Widely viewed as damaging to Irish food producers, ' brexit ' has seen the price of Sterling drop making Irish food exports less competitive in the UK, and, combined with uncertainty surrouning Britain's continuing membership of the Single Market and Customs Union , many small Irish producer are worried about trade with Ireland's top food export market.

However, the shock vote in June last year could yet allow Irish businesses such as Cashel Blue Cheese to expand their business with mainland Europe if continentals see Ireland as a safe haven compared to their British counterparts, explains Sarah Furno, of the Grubb family which launched Cashel Blue Cheese more than 30 years ago.

“Nobody likes curveballs, and this really was a curveball,” says Sarah, Co-owner and General Manager of Cashel Farmhouse Cheesemakers. “It's an opportunity for us as we're a small player, and we're not trying to shift hundreds of tonnes of product from one market into another. You don't find markets for hundreds of tonnes overnight. Markets develop gradually.”

While there is frustration amongst European business at British political procrastination, this creates uncertainty which business dislikes, says Sarah. The result is that they may look at Irish suppliers and producers as a safer and more stable alternative to the British suppliers. “They'll think, hey! Who's going to cause us less problems - maybe it's the Irish.”

Sarah told the Tipperary Star that traditionally French and Italian businesses in the cheese industry would have favoured the British, given that country's long traditions, but brexit means giving Irish businesses “an opportunity, in a quiet diplomatic way to stand on their own two feet, away from Britain.” Previously, continental business viewed Irish and British producers in the same vein, but the UK's exit means Irish producers can now market themselves as distinct and separate from the UK, leading to further opportunities.

“The food scene is a very competitive scene, and let's say you're a newer British cheesemaker, it's certainly not the right time to be looking to continental Europe,” says Sarah. Cashel Blue Cheese has always seen itself as a pro-European business. Sarah has a background in European studies, and the Irish cheese industry has always kept abreast of the latest European trends and standards. “There have always been channels open between Ireland and France and Italy and Germany.”

Cashel Blue has been working on diversifying its markets since 2011, which had become overly reliant on the UK, and the business is familiar with having to export outside the Eurozone.

One of the keys to success however, remains on satisfying your domestic market, and ensuring that 10% to 20% of your resources are devoted to market diversification, says Sarah. “Faraway hills are not always greener.”

More information on this story at www.cashelblue.com and www.localenterprise.ie/tipperary