To be fair, it’s not the first time that brioche has been called cake.
That famous quip attributed to the ill-fated Marie Antoinette, “qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” is most often translated to great dramatic effect as “let them eat cake.”
It seems that the Revenue Commissioners, in what they are calling a ‘clarification’ of the current VAT rules, have decided that brioche might as well be cake, because it will now attract VAT, as cakes do, at 13.5%, whereas previously it would have been classified along with bread, which escapes the VAT net. And it’s not just brioche: other items, such as croissants, bagels and even garlic bread are no longer sufficiently bread-like to qualify for zero VAT status. Really.
This came to my attention as I was leaving the hallowed halls of Trinity College, which had been the venue for the Bord Bia Irish Food & Drink Industry Awards last week. I happened upon Suzanne Campbell, who was discussing the issue and how it would hit small bakery businesses, with William Despard of the Bretzel Bakery (he who had made such an impression at the recent Savour Kilkenny Foodcamp). William was understandably exercised about the VAT hike.
In the midst of the discussion, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney, who had been speaking earlier at the event, came walking past. “Now that’s who you need to talk to,” said Suzanne. William wasted no time in letting his opinions be known, but the Minister, it seems, was already on the case. After a brief exchange, Minister Coveney passed on his way and you felt that the will, at least, was there to make this particular problem go away. Only time, of course, would tell.
It was a stark reminder of the challenges that food producers, especially those operating on a small scale, contend with all the time. The evening as a whole, however, had been one of positivity. Achievements in innovation, export performance, sustainability, domestic success, entrepreneurship and branding by companies, some large and some small, were all acknowledged on the night. It was a pleasure to see a list of winners which included Flahavan’s, who received the award for domestic success, Natasha’s Living Foods whose kale crunchies merited the innovation award, while Largo Foods, home of that über-Irish brand Tayto crisps, were acknowledged for their excellence in branding. All play a part in the good news story that is the Irish food and drink industry.
As the text on the back of the evening’s menu had indicated, Ireland will export almost €9 billion worth of food and drink to over 170 countries in 2011, which is an increase of 25% in what have been two of the most difficult years in our country’s finances. Austerity bedamned, this was something positive to tweet about:
It only occurred to me later that I might equally have revised that aforementioned French phrase of old and proclaimed – in a far more practical and positive sense than the original – “Let us eat Irish food.”