Food along the Wild Atlantic Way, published in the November issue of the Polish magazine Twój Styl
On November 19th, Bord Bia was joined by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr. Charlie McConalogue, and over 320 food companies for a special online event where 26 of Ireland’s leading food businesses including Irish Premium Oysters received inaugural Origin Green Gold Membership in recognition of their efforts to excel in sustainable food production.
The event recognised the Origin Green Gold Members for 2020, and provided insight into the role of sustainability in the agri-business sector through panel discussions with Minister McConalogue, Dan MacSweeney, Bord Bia chairman, Tara McCarthy, Bord Bia CEO and Deirdre Ryan, director of Origin Green and a keynote address from Mike Barry, leading sustainability change agent.
On Thursday, November 5th, 2020, the winners of the inaugural Green Food & Beverage Producer Awards were revealed in front of a live digital audience. View the winners below.
The standard of entries really impressed the judges and because the results were close, we also announced 2nd & 3rd places across selected categories.
Best Sustainable Seafood Processor
WINNER: Irish Premium Oysters
The Gallaghers’ venture took off. Through a strategic partnership with a distributor in Hong Kong, Irish Premium Oysters became highly sought-after in Asia, with some of the most expensive seafood restaurants in the region paying to have them flown in fresh every day.
Demand for Irish oysters has only intensified since. From 2017 to 2018, Irish oyster sales to China increased by 83 per cent; currently, annual sales to China alone are estimated at approximately €6 million.
It is not only the bottom line that drives operations at Irish Premium Oysters, however. Sustainable aquaculture has been woven into the DNA of the multigenerational family business. Irish Premium Oysters is an accredited participant of the Origin Green programme and, therefore, operates in accordance with Ireland‘s highest order of sustainable and carbon-friendly protocols.
We sat down with Edward Gallagher to discuss the rise of the Irish oyster industry, the impact of climate change and why bigger is not always better when it comes to oyster farming.
Irish oysters were traditionally very difficult to grow and took a long time to reach maturity. With an eye to development, however, a lot of money and resources went into Ireland’s aquaculture, which included oyster, clam and scallop farming.
Unfortunately, scallops were difficult to cultivate, and clams were susceptible to a disease called brown ring, which made farming unfeasible. As a result, over time, oysters became the flagship product of Irish aquaculture.
Yes – my father actually set the business up for me. He knew I had no interest in school nor construction, the industry in which he worked. Furthermore, he didn’t want his family to leave Ireland and go to Scotland or England as he had done.
Therefore, he wanted a local business that was going to be viable in the long term but didn’t know what industry to go into until he met our future partners in Hong Kong. If it wasn’t for that chance meeting, it’s extremely unlikely that Irish Premium Oysters would be as successful as it is today. Now, as we look to the next generation, the business is doing well.
My youngest daughter helps occasionally, but she’s just 17 and cannot join full-time yet. My son is only 10, and my oldest daughter is away at college. That said, when she’s home for the weekend, she pitches in.
“I want them to embrace their passions rather than follow in my footsteps.”
I’m a firm believer that if my children come to work at Irish Premium Oysters, it has to be their choice. I would never force them to join the business. I want them to embrace their passions rather than follow in my footsteps.
Yes, absolutely. Interestingly enough, however, climate change is beneficial for us in some ways: rising sea temperatures make oysters grow faster. That said, we in no way wish to contribute to climate change. We are currently exploring our carbon emissions in-depth. Although we cannot give exact figures yet, early indications suggest that oyster farming is carbon-friendly when compared with conventional farming on land.
Whether our current model will be feasible in the future remains to be seen. Right now, we’re one of the biggest Irish exporters of oysters to Asia. However, as air freights are increasingly taxed due to their negative impact on the environment, shipping oysters to Asia may become prohibitive in terms of cost.
As a result, we’re starting to look more to European markets, but it would be a shame to lose business in Asia, as a huge demand for good-quality seafood exists there. We are also looking for ways of making our export model more sustainable in the face of climate change.
Irish Premium Oysters is a participating member of Origin Green, Ireland’s food and drink sustainability programme. This means that we work to achieve sustainability targets that protect the environment, like trying to reduce our carbon footprint by using more eco-friendly packaging. Everything is independently checked and verified, and we’re very proud to be part of it.
Technology has completely changed the way we operate. When Irish Premium Oysters first started, we were working with approximately 200 steel frames and 1,200 oyster bags, and we used to wash each bag with a pressure hose. Today, we have around 10,000 frames and 60,000 oyster bags, so washing them individually is no longer feasible.
Join us on our farm tour and see first-hand the life cycle of an oyster. As part of the tour you will enjoy the taste of oysters fresh from the Atlantic Sea.
Our tour is a one hour guided tour by the oyster farmer.
At the conclusion, you will have visited an oyster farm, learnt about the different oyster farming methods. Have an understanding of how our oysters are grown from seed to Jumbo size. What is involved in getting them restaurant ready. Received a demonstration of how to shuck an oyster and best of all get to taste an oyster fresh out of the water. You will have the chance to ask any questions and will be an expert at the end of the tour
Wear weather appropriate clothing
Wear beach appropriate footwear, you may have to walk in a couple inches of water, depending on tide.
The Awards, dedicated to recognising the achievements of individuals and businesses revolutionising the Irish seafood sector under the key themes of Sustainability, Innovation and Competitiveness, where held in Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral on 27 November 2018.
The shortlist was as follows:
Best in Fishing Innovation
Best in Aquaculture Innovation
Best in Processing Innovation
Best in Sustainable Fishing
Best in Sustainable Aquaculture
Best in Sustainable Processing
Fishing Enterprise of the Year
Aquaculture Enterprise of the Year
Processing Enterprise of the Year
Best Seafood Retailer of the Year
Best Seafood Retailer of the Year – Independent
A Student of the Year and a Lifetime Achievement Award was also presented under the Skills category on the night.
“Our oysters are mainly bought by consumers for the flavours. We have a river running adjacent to the oyster farm and it’s peaty water, which gives it a very unique taste. That is our biggest selling point. Some oysters have big meat, some oysters have beautiful shells, ours have a very unique taste. We don’t have extraordinarily large meat but you get a unique aftertaste. The consumers keep asking for our products. It’s the consumers who decide, rather than wholesalers. It ends up in four and five-star hotels, top-end restaurants.”
All product from Irish Premium Oysters is destined for export, with 99 per cent going to Asia.
“I am very unusual as an oyster farmer in Europe to say that I sell nothing in Europe, because the average oyster farm sells 90 per cent in Europe. We started exporting to Hong Kong and Taiwan in early 2000, and we have loyal customers in Hong Kong. From there we have moved to Malaysia, Japan, Dubai, Singapore, Thailand and China.”
Edward explains that product is packed twice a week, on Monday and Friday, arriving in Asia two days later.
“We own our own lorries so it is a sealed unit and are recognised as ‘known consigners’, which means our oysters go directly onto the plane. That cuts out a bit of time.”
Edward says Irish Premium Oysters is growing organically at 10-15 per cent per annum and is now exploring opportunities closer to home in Europe.
“That way we won’t be entirely reliant on Asia. We are looking at Italy because I have exported there in the past. There is always going to be a space for our product because it has a very unique taste. That is our biggest selling point.”
Edward prefers to work with one or two customers in each of his target markets.
“My target is to do 2,500-5,000 oysters a week into eight to 10 different markets rather than 10,000-30,000 oysters a week into one market. It’s quality over quantity.”
To maintain quality in production, Edward explains that the cold waters in the Donegal Bay slow down growth and allow the flavours to mature.
“We can do it quite naturally because in Donegal the water temperature is roughly 2OC colder than in the south of Ireland. So, we slow down the growth, which increases shelf life and the hardiness of the shell. It also increases the meat content.”
Irish Premium Oysters operates a modern facility in Donegal.
“We were one of the first in Ireland to put in an automatic grader back in 2007. I upgraded it in 2010 and upgraded it again last year.”
As a member of Bord Bia’s (the Irish Food Board) Origin Green programme the company is looking at ways to drive improvements, including packaging, electricity and water consumption. Edward believes this is an important element in sharing the industry’s story internationally.
Irish Premium Oysters Ltd produces an Oyster which is unique to Traigheanna Bay. These unique oysters continue to grow in popularity internationally. Oysters are high in protein and low in fat and are highly nutritious, rich in zinc which is vital for a healthy immune system and are known as an aphrodisiac food which does have some truth to it, as their high zinc content is good for a healthy endocrine (hormone system) and libido.
Oysters were originally transported wrapped in seaweed and sold by the barrel-full. Today all, oysters are graded and sold by category of weight. The quality of oysters are rigorously scrutinised by national and international buyers for conformance to weight, shell appearance and cleanliness.
Traditionally oyster farmers have weighed per hand or on weighing scales, a painstaking task involving considerable cost in terms of manpower, time and the risk of error. Oysters were washed separately frequently imprecisely in a ‘DIY’ manner. In the last decade Ireland’s largest farmers recognised the cost-saving benefits of an integrated and synchronised washing and grading system allowing for greater inspection and scrutiny before dispatch.
Several Irish farmers have recently chosen to renew their equipment and take advantage of recent technological advances. The Marine Times have learned of one such installation that has taken place at Irish Premium Oysters in Donegal. Choosing advanced technology introduced in the preceding two years by the Hardouin Company from the Vendee region of France, Irish Premium Oysters opted for the grading machine and associated equipment with the greatest count per hour capacity, reasoning that any current excess capacity could be made available in the future. This new machinery was then integrated and synchronised with a pre-existing washer system.
Edward Gallagher, Managing Director of Irish Premium Oysters says “We took a strategic decision, and opted for a large capital investment, including modernising our machinery. Mechanization will achieve a higher production rate with the same amount of labour; this will allow me to spend more time doing the intensive management that results in premium grade oysters. In oyster production, the more often the oysters are sorted, the higher the quality. Grading allows for the removal of dead oysters and the checking of oyster health. By keeping similar size oysters together inter-oyster competition is reduced.”
Irish premium Oyster chooses Hardouin grading machines when they decided to renew their grading machines. Hardouin, a French company, is situated in the major oyster producing area in the Vendee and is the leading manufacturer of oyster grading machinery in France with over 300 in operation. With many farms in France being small family affairs the capacity of grading machinery is varied and ranges from maximum weighting capacity of 6000 an hour (small manual turnstile) to the largest available capacity of 19,000 (22 cup). The option of linear grading lines is also available. Different options are available in terms of washers and baggers. The company also proposes machinery for the mussel industry. Using the latest electronic equipment, the major innovation to the latest generation of Hardouin grading machines is its motorised cup system which increases speed, efficiency and long-term reliability. This innovation together with a remote maintenance capacity has given the company a major impetus to export. With a growing presence in Canada, the UK and the Netherlands the company now has six such graders in operation in Ireland along with other machinery such as washers and baggers.
Operating Hardouin grading machines: In brief terms the grader is fed post-washing by a synchronised feeding system that places a single oyster in each cup of the circular grader where it is weighed and directed to one of 6 pre-programmed weights exists. A control box (in effect a computer) allows for maximum flexibility whether in terms of synchronised speed control, pre-programming of grader exits or count (bags/oysters/weight). Having found the speed associated with the 22-cup grader (approx. 19,000 weightings/hour at full capacity) excessive, for current production, the speed of the machine was subsequently reduced to a more manageable 15,000 weightings an hour with the option of increasing capacity/speed in the future.
A requirement for Irish Premium Oysters was the annual maintenance and service contract with a commitment for a Hardouin technician to be on site if problems cannot be solved remotely.
It can be clearly seen that the use of the automated graded greatly increases the numbers of oysters that can be processed per hour. The actual numbers of oysters graded varied with type of seed (e.g. hatchery or FBS seed, wild seed and lantern net seed), with greater numbers of oysters graded when from hatchery of lantern net sources as opposed to wild seed. Also the numbers of oysters processed varied with size. There was a significant improvement of using the automated system when compared to the manual screening performed previously. In addition for hatchery seed without handling, approximately 19 times the amount of 12mm seed were processed per hour when comparing to projected values, indicating that the handling capacity of the system far exceeded expectation. Handling significantly reduced the amount of seed capable to be processed per hour (from 165,429 to 22,316). Also it appears that the type of seed processed is important, as greater amounts of lantern net seed and hatchery seed (unhandled) were processed per hour (165,429 and 69,782 respectively) when compared to wild seed (16,911). In each case, more than double the amount of seed was actually graded per hour when compared to projected values of automation and are much greater than seen in the manual system. In conclusion the new automated system is far more efficient at grading oyster seed and is therefore significantly improving the efficiencies of operation for shellfish farmers.
Irish Premium Oysters are delighted with their investment, ‘Increased production and efficiency will allow us to screen the young oysters more frequently which in turn will produce a higher quality product. The technology offered an immediate impact with an increase in economic and environmental productivity through reduced production costs, an increase in product quality which will ensure the long term sustainability of the company and industry,” says Edward Gallagher MD Irish Premium Oysters.
A Donegal company has signed a major deal that will lead to oysters from the north-west being exported to China.
Irish Premium Oysters, located at Traigheanna Bay, near Lettermacaward in south-west Donegal,is sending 192 tonnes of oysters to China.
The news comes after the company hosted a significant Chinese delegation on Firday headed up by Mr Li Qinwu the Secretary General of the Guandong Enterprise Association for foreign Investment and Ms Kairan Xie of the Guandong Council for the promotion of small and medium enterprise.
The delegation flew into Donegal airport and from the outset they were highly impressed by the scenery and the welcome they received from Mr Edward Gallagher of Irish Premium Oysters, his family and staff. The visit was coordinated by Ms Yan Zhao, China Sales Director for Jade Ireland Seafood.
Accompanying the delegation was Ms Susan Sun of Shenzhen North-South Import-Export Ltd. Ms Sun has been introduced to Edward’s Award-Winning Oysters by Ms Yan Zhao of Jade IrelandSeafood, who market a range of Seafood Products in China under the Ocean Jade Brand and represent Irish Premium Oysters in China.
According to Ms Sun the quality of the Irish Premium Oysters were exceptional and the purpose of her visit was to sign contract with Edward Gallagher for 192 tonnes of his Oysters for the Chinese market.
Commenting on the deal, Mr Edward Gallagher said that the success of his product was down to the unspoilt unique location in west Donegal and being able to convey the naturalness of west Donegal through the company website, in promotional material and stunning local photography, it was only natural that buyers would want to come here to see it for themselves.
To find out more about Irish Premium Oysters and its operations in Donegal see the promotional video below.
Comparing the uniqueness of the west Donegal Oysters to famous wine producing vineyards in Europe, he said some products simply cannot be recreated anywhere else. Pristine brackish water, tidal currents and peaty fresh water, produce an Oyster which is unique to Traigheanna Bay. This major deal with the Chinese company will lead to the limited supply of the much sought after Oyster being marketed as the finest oyster in the World
Commenting on the Deal Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher, Leas Cheann Comhairle of Dáil Eireann welcomed the Chinese Delegation to Donegal, and stated that this was a good news story for west Donegal and a vote of confidence for Irish Premium Oysters, the Gallagher family and all their staff.
He said: “The newly secured market deal with the Chinese Delegation is a very significant development for the company and will provide great security moving forward for the company and their employees. Irish Premium Oysters offer to the market top quality oysters, taken and farmed in the most pristine waters in Western Europe which guarantees an absolute first class product to all their customers and now to the Chinese market which they have newly secured as a result of this deal.”
And he added: “I wish to compliment all those involved in this deal and wish the new venture every success and to acknowledge that investments such as this make a significant contribution to coastal communities’ right throughout the west of Ireland and Donegal in particular.”
The Chinese delegation outside Donegal International Airport.
The delegation flew into Donegal airport and from the outset they were highly impressed by the scenery and the welcome they received from Mr Edward Gallagher of Irish Premium Oysters, his family and staff. The visit was coordinated by Ms Yan Zhao, China Sales Director for Jade Ireland Seafood
In particular the Delegation Leaders were highly impressed with the Airport and its environs and warmly welcomed to Donegal by Ms Anne Bonner, Managing Director and Mrs Pauline Sweeney, Marketing Manager from Donegal Airport (pictured). They were particularly moved by the presence of the Chinese flag alongside the European, Irish and Donegal flags. Upon hearing that the Airport was the second most beautiful in the world, they have suggested a promotion! It is hoped that further Chinese business people will come through the Airport in the coming years and months.
A Chinese delegation visited Donegal this week to sign a contract which will see 192 tonnes of oysters be exported to China.
Donegal Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher says this is an important investment not only for the company but for coastal communities, in particular, Donegal.
He says this will hopefully increase employment opportunities in the area: