The Prepared Consumer Foods (PCF) sector plays a pivotal role in the Irish agri-food sector. Prepared consumer food exports increased by 30% from €2 billion in 2012 to over €2.6 billion in 2018. In 2018, the UK accounted for 68% of PCF food and drink exports. The sector is, therefore, significantly exposed to the impact of Brexit and is challenged by the fact that most PCF companies are small and investment in research and innovation within the sector has traditionally been low.
Recognising the need to assist PCF companies to respond and adapt to these challenges, I announced in Budget 2018, the allocation of €5m for the development of a Prepared Consumer Foods Centre (PCFC) in Teagasc, Ashtown, under the National Development Plan for the purchase of capital equipment which companies could pilot, with the assistance of Teagasc Food Technologists, with a view to scaling up their production, innovating or reformulating products. The PCF Centre was officially opened on 18th October 2018, ahead of schedule.
I secured an additional €5 million in Budget 2019 to build on this investment by providing funding for incubation units, in addition to the purchase of equipment for nutritional measurement and quality and sensory analysis.
The Centre has, to date, assisted 50 companies to innovate and diversify products and their market focus, in order to help mitigate the negative impact of Brexit and to grow the indigenous PCF sector.
To date, €6.5 million of equipment has been purchased in total, and it is expected that the remaining €3.5 million, will be committed by the end of 2019.
The further development of PCF centre will continue to be assessed in light of the demands of the sector and its performance. Ultimately, the long-term vision is to develop a Centre of Excellence with world-class research and technological services, providing opportunities to develop greater value added, to integrate better into the agri-food value chain and to address the wider sustainability issues facing the sector.