Access 6, an EU-funded export development programme, has this week launched a drive to boost Irish food and drink exports to the €312bn French retail grocery and foodservice market at an event hosted by the Irish Ambassador to France, HE Mr Rory Montgomery, in Paris.

The Access 6 programme is an EU INTERREG IVA-funded programme delivered by the Irish Exporters Association (IEA), Northern Ireland Food and Drink and Scotland Food and Drink.

The initiative aims to provide ninety SMEs across the three border regions with training and mentorship to successfully supply and trade in a number of foreign markets including UK, France, Germany, Scandinavia, North America and Benelux.

France remains the leading continental European market for Irish food and drink exports and Ireland’s most important eurozone trading partner in the sector, with total 2013 food and drink exports estimated at €673m. The double-digit growth achieved in 2013 saw growth not only in areas of traditional strength such as lamb and beverages, but significant new business in categories such as mushrooms, snails, bakery, farmhouse cheese and soft drinks.

Irish companies taking part in the French cluster of the initiative include Starcrest Seafood, Swift Fine Foods, Terra Drinks , Good 4 U and Clonarn Clover.

To mark the launch of the French cluster, an evening reception was held at the Irish Embassy in Paris this week hosted by Ambassador of Ireland to France HE Mr Rory Montgomery. The event acted as a showcase for the participating companies and their produce. Other attendees included potential buyers in the French food and drink sector; senior trade advisors from the British Embassy in Paris; representatives from IEA, NIFDA, SF&D; and Irish-French business networks including Network Irelande and the Irish French Chamber of Commerce.

The event also celebrated the appointment of Bullseye Marketing, an Irish-based provider of food marketing and business development solutions, as the official mentor to the participating companies that are embarking on French export strategies. Bullseye will provide the companies with the skillsets, professional marketing assistance and logistical support to successfully supply to the French retail grocery and foodservice market.

Speaking at the launch event in the Irish Embassy in Paris, Ambassador of Ireland to France H.E. Mr. Rory Montgomery said: “The French market of 66 million people offers huge opportunities to businesses wishing to export. The launch of the French cluster of Access 6 gives all those involved the chance to explore the opportunities in the French market which is home to one of the largest foodservice markets in Europe and has a retail grocery market worth in the region of €225bn. I believe that Irish food and drink companies are continuing to enjoy a very positive image within France and wish the participating companies luck as they explore new trade relationships here.”

Access 6 Programme Director, John Whelan added: “Exports are key to the growth of Irish companies and vital to the success of the Irish economy. The Access 6 programme is dedicated to providing SMEs in the food and drink industry with knowledge and expertise to help them access and trade in profitable new markets. This launch event in France is about providing a platform to showcase all that the participating companies have to offer and to encourage potential buyers in the French market to invest.

“The 15 SME producers on the French cluster of the Access 6 programme are expected to achieve the targeted incremental sales of quarter of a million euro each. A total of €3.7m added sales for the 15 companies is a small slice of the €312bn plus French market, but to each of these companies it will make a significant difference to their total company performance over the next two years, and guide them along the path to sustainable sales in the French market over the years to come.”

The participating companies will now embark on a range of audits, training modules and study tours, led by Bullseye, with the aim of enhancing their export capacity. Acting as a broker, Bullseye will negotiate meetings with potential channel partners including retailers and food service providers, with the long term goal of helping the Irish companies secure product listings in the French market.