Goresbridge-based animal feed company Connolly’s Red Mills has become the first in the world to be able to import horse feed into mainland China – and they aren’t stopping there.
Already selling their horse feed in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines, they now have their sights set on the Indian market as well.
Representatives from the company are in Beijing this week, and on Monday the Irish Department of Agriculture signed an agreement for the animal feed licence with Chinese officials during an Agri Services Trade Mission to China led by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney.
Today (Wednesday) they are going on to Shanghai and then to Bangalore in India, “where we are going to investigate that market,” said Connolly’s managing director Joe Connolly, speaking from Beijing on Monday.
The deal is potentially worth several million euros for the family-owned company that has been in business over 100 years. It is also expected to help the Irish horse industry in its drive to become a supplier of top horses and horse-related products into the country.
“It is very, very significant,” Mr Connolly said of the deal, which has been in the works for several years.
“We started with the idea that there was potential for selling horse feed here when we went to Japan,” he said. The company started exporting to Japan about five years ago and then expanded into Hong Kong and more recently into Singapore and the Philippines.
“We had a breakthrough in our packaging which made this all possible, because we were able to produce a feed product within a special pack,” Mr Connolly said. “Other than that, you wouldn’t be able to get farther than England because of the heat.”
“We went to all of these markets where they were raising horses and we have been successful in them, but China was in its infancy,” he said.
During the five years since they began applying for the licence, they weren’t always confident that they would be successful in getting it, but they never gave up on the idea.
Even when they secured a licence to sell the horse feed, for example, they learned that they also needed a quarantine licence, which involved the Chinese government conducting an audit of the Irish Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Agriculture in turn conducting an audit of Connolly’s. And yet, in the end it came through for them.
“Being here is very exciting,” Mr Connolly said of Beijing. “We were in a room in the Embassy tonight with about 300 people, and everyone in the room was talking about what they could sell for Ireland – nobody was talking about what size their house is or house prices.”
“It was really reassuring to be here, and it is great to be Irish here this evening. We had an enormous reception from the Chinese themselves,” he added. “There was one comment that when you’re in China you will see something every day that you would not see in Ireland every day.”
During their time there, they visited an equestrian centre with two indoor arenas and an outdoor arena plus a hotel, and it was only in development since 2008 – a sign of how things are growing so strongly in China, Mr Connolly said. “If you said, ‘I am going to build something,’ they will say, ‘What is the best one in the world and how can we improve on that?’”