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Where to focus a “Buy Irish” campaign?

In the past couple of weeks, there’s been much coverage regarding the closure of the Cappoquin Chickens business in Waterford. I was struck by a snippet of something mentioned on the radio on one of the days during the middle of the coverage which turned out to be a quote from the IFA President, Padraig Walshe.

The key quote that I heard was a call by Mr.Walshe for people to “buy Irish”. How about that for a blast from the past?

How many people actually remember the “guaranteed Irish” and “buy Irish” campaigns of the 1980’s?

I suppose there’s a small touch of irony in the fact that the “buy Irish” slogan is being used again now when, if we’re to believe many of the newspapers, we’re on a downward slide to depths of similar depressions that we, and more particularly our parents, suffered back then.

Reading further in this article from September 2nd on Ireland.com, I saw that it was actually the supermarkets based in Ireland that Mr. Walshe is calling on to “buy Irish”. According to the article:

Mr Walsh criticised supermarket chains for using discounted imported chicken as an enticement to shoppers, especially when he claimed such imports do not satisfy the same high food standards as Irish chicken. “This has devalued a quality assured product in the minds of customers. Offers such as ‘two for one’ put downward pressure on producer margins at a time of rising costs. Supermarkets cannot continue to use food as a loss leader in their pursuit of market share,” he said.

Fair enough – given that Mr. Walshe was really only speaking out on behalf of his paid up chicken farming IFA union members who were about to lose their livelihoods because of the liquidation of Cappoquin Chickens, and not from a consumer perspective, you can see where he’s coming from.

I’m sure it’s the case still today, but back in 2004, this statement was made by Stephen Conmy in a ShelfLife magazine survey about consumers buying Irish:

It seems Irish shoppers like the idea of buying Irish and claim they want to support Irish producers but when it comes to price, they will choose cheaper, imported food if the equivalent Irish food is more expensive.

I’ve said many times here previously that it’s unlikely that Irish consumers are all that familiar with the price of many of the items in their weekly shopping trolley. And following on from the “Shrink Ray” article a couple of weeks ago, it’s unlikely that many consumers are fully familiar with the actual size/volume/weight of many of those products.

By a logical extension, I would safely hazard a guess that many people don’t know the origins for most of the products they buy each week – in supermarkets of which a minority are themselves “guaranteed Irish”.

Dunnes Stores are the only supermarket that I know of that provide you with a sub-total on your shopping receipt that tells you how much you’ve just spent on Irish produce.

Back to Mr. Walshes statement. Supermarkets will only sell what it is that consumers are looking to buy. We’ve seen recent examples of this in the reaction of these supermarkets to changes in buying habits of Irish consumers in the grocery market – the Tesco Cash Savers range, the 10% off at the till at Dunnes Stores in recent weekends and the recent 1970’s prices offer at Superquinn. Consumers are looking for cheaper groceries, so the supermarkets are satisfying that desire.

For this reason, shouldn’t then the real focus of any “buy Irish” campaigns be on the Irish consumer themselves, rather than on the supermarkets? Since changing our buying habits when it comes to looking for better value for money has forced the supermarkets to react, couldn’t we also change our buying habits again to focus on “guaranteed Irish” to force our supermarkets to themselves “buy more Irish”?

As I’ve always said here, it’s only through direct consumer action, or reaction, that we will get big businesses in this country to change their ways and do more of what we want them to do. Given the size of the farming lobby in this country, surely a focused campaign by Mr. Walshe to encourage all his members, their families, their employees, their neighbours and friends and families to “buy Irish”, you’d see a significant shift in the buying habits of a large proportion of the country – something that the supermarkets wouldn’t possibly be able to ignore because of bottom line impact – at least not as easily as they’ll ignore the direct pleading of Mr. Walshe.

4 comments On Where to focus a “Buy Irish” campaign?


    Very well put and argued. I agree with your analyses, and especially with the conclusion that only buying power of informed and intelligent consumers can change the market and the behaviour of big multi-national businesses.

    Sadly, when I look around me during my own shopping, I see very few consumers like that in Ireland. The vast majority behave rather like lemmings. Continental Europeans are a lot more aware of products, qualities and prices, and also of their consumer rights.

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  • At Dunnes Stores Dundalk you can pick up a tin of Quality Street for 9.99 euro. A few minutes down the road and another Dunnes has the same tin of choccies costing 5.36 euro. The cheaper store is in Newry..but thats ok..Im still supporting an irish retailer right?

  • That’s sort of part of our thinking – particularly in later posts. If we can’t buy Irish products, at least buy from Irish retailers.

    Though, I suppose some would say that that’s partially diluted by shopping in Newry.

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