Situated off the west coast of Ireland, the small and tranquil Achill Island is now home to a thriving international business, thanks to the support from the Enterprise Europe Network. Achill Oysters, an Irish aquaculture business, has been able to reach new markets around the world while simultaneously sustaining the island’s sea farming heritage.
Achill Oysters’ story begins at Cardiff University in Wales, United Kingdom, where the business’ founder, Hugh O’Malley, was studying. Shortly after hearing about the decline in fly fishing at the expense of fish farming, O’Malley noticed that cod was twice the price of salmon. “if you can farm salmon,” he said, “why can’t you farm cod?”
Having discovered that codfish would not be suitable for farming on Achill Island, O’Malley found that oysters could provide the solution and, together with his wife, started farming and selling their product within Dublin.
O’Malley had bigger ambitions and began looking to other markets beyond Ireland. After realising that the UK market wasn’t viable, O’Malley was recommended to focus on the Chilean market, a market of which he already had some knowledge. However, the Chilean market was not suitable. Unsure where to look next, O’Malley sought the help of the Enterprise Europe Network through the Dublin Chamber of Commerce.
The Network was able to offer a bespoke solution to O’Malley’s internationalisation issues by suggesting that rather than looking West, Achill Oysters should instead look East. “They changed the direction I looked – they opened my eyes to other markets," he said. “We found a market in China that fancied what we were doing. Support from the Network allowed us to get in front of Chinese customers and get an understanding of their culture,” he added.
“He already had an international mindset,” says Maria Deady, International Project Manager at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, the Irish Network member. “He had an interest in the Chinese market, but he didn’t have any knowledge about it. We were able to assist him.” According to Deady, the Network was able to open the door to the market, giving O’Malley the knowledge and the confidence to succeed.
The Network introduced O’Malley to representatives from Board Bia, the Irish Food Board, which gives the business credibility overseas. They also suggested that he looked straight towards buyers and sellers in China. To help him move forward, the Network helped O’Malley to set up meetings with potential customers in Shenzhen and supported his presence at the 2018 Qingdao Seafood Expo.
In addition to business advice, the Network was able to give cultural guidance to ensure that Achill Oysters would sell in Asian markets. For instance, they advised O’Malley to keep his packaging in English, rather than translating it into Chinese, to maintain a sense of exclusivity and luxury about his product.
Today, Achill Oysters has transformed from a small Irish aquaculture firm to a highly successful international exporter. Soon after his contact with the Network, O’Malley was exporting over two tonnes of oysters to China every week. As a result of accessing the Chinese market, Achill Oysters has seen a five-fold increase in turnover, growing from €100,000 to €half a million. O’Malley believes that this figure can treble over the next 12 months. They have also created jobs in the region, more than doubling their staff count from three to seven.
O’Malley is using the international contacts he has developed through the Network to keep aquaculture alive on Achill Island. He now acts as a buyer for several smaller oyster farms from around the coastline to supply the bigger markets, meaning that the island’s centuries-old maritime tradition can continue to exist. “He is improving traditional farming,” said Deady. “It's keeping the local industry alive.” For O’Malley, the decision behind this is simple: “I’ve seen these communities on their knees. I want the maritime communities of Ireland to survive,” he said. “It’s a symbiotic relationship.”
According to O’Malley, the impact of the Network’s support has been massive. “We’re showing very strong growth,” he said. “It has allowed us to survive and thrive.”