Ireland's agriculture sector is broadly seen as being the biggest potential loser from Brexit, while it also faces a sizeable threat should Donald Trump's protectionist overtones become a reality. But those threats do not seem to have dented the optimism of the companies involved in the sector, at least according to the latest Agribusiness report from the Irish Farmers' Journal and KPMG. Its survey of senior management in a range of global agriculture and food companies found that the majority expected growth - both in terms of their own business and the global economy.
"In this year's Agribusiness report, 80% of the companies that we surveyed are quite confident and expect to grow in 2017, which is quite surprising given the threats of Brexit and Trump," said Eoin Lowry, who authored the report. "What's most interesting is that a greater share of them expect to grow at a stronger rate - with a little more than half of them expecting to grow by more than 5%."
The vast majority of the firms surveyed also expected to invest in their business during the year - with much of that money going towards capital projects - as they seek to develop opportunities at home and abroad. That investment is taking different forms depending on the company, Mr Lowry said, but it is all based on well-developed plans nonetheless. "We're in a global environment with very little or no growth in some geographies and these companies are all about growth," he said. "They're playing out strategies that have been in place long before Trump and Brexit.
"If you take Greencore, it is transforming its business in the Food-To-Go space with its acquisition of Peacocks Foods in the US which will see its US business quadruple in the next few years. Similarly with Glanbia, it's restructuring its Irish operations," he said.
Whatever form those changes are taking, they are all built around the firms' attempts to better cater to consumer demands, which in recent years has been very much focused on the quality of the produce. "It's very focused on that performance nutrition, that healthy eating space, and that's very much on trend. The companies are seeing that the consumer is front-and-centre, wants to know where their food is coming from and wants to be sure it's being produced in an environmental and safe manner."
Catering to that trend is not the sole preserve of the producers, however, as everything from retailers to fast food chains seek to improve what they are offering in order to attract and retain customers. For McDonalds that is taking the form of ensuring the sustainability of the goods it acquires, according to Mr Lowry, while the likes of Lidl is hoping to build on its ever-growing market share by improving the quality of its offering.
"They were identified as one of the hard discounters when they came into the market almost ten years ago, but they want to capture more share of the market and what they're doing is moving up the value chain," he said. "They're offering fresh food that is bang on the consumer trend and will get more people into their stores."
MORNING BRIEFS - C&C Group made an operating profits of €95m in the year to the end of March, according to its annual results, down almost 8% on 2016 but only slightly lower on a constant currency basis. The drinks group saw revenues of €559.5m during the year, down 15.5% on an annual basis and almost 7% lower when the effect of currencies are removed. C&C Group owns a number of alcohol brands including Bulmers and Tennant's - as well as soft drink label Finches and Tipperary Water.
*** The UK government has confirmed that it has sold all of its shares in Lloyds Banking Group, marking the firm's return to full private ownership nine years after it was bailed out. Britain invested more than £20 billion in the bank in 2009 - taking a 43% stake in the process. Multiple share sales had seen that fall gradually, with the government's holding standing at just 0.25% last week.
*** Shares in social media platform Twitter rose last night after another one of its co-founders announced that they would return to the company. Biz Stone was one of the four people to create Twitter in 2006, but left the firm five years later. He has since gone on to help create the popular blogging platform Medium, as well as a search company that was recently acquired by Pinterest. In a post online Stone said he would return to "shape the experience internally" and would give more details of his new role soon. He is now the second Twitter co-founder to return to the company, after Jack Dorsey who returned as its CEO in late 2015.