Whiskey & craft beer help drive Ireland's record F&B exports

Irish whiskey exports to double by 2020

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Increased global demand for premium products is helping Irish whiskey. Pic:iStock/KayTaenzer
Increased global demand for premium products is helping Irish whiskey. Pic:iStock/KayTaenzer

Related tags International trade Alcoholic beverage

Irish whiskey exports are projected to double by 2020, according to Irish food board Bord Bia, with the category being the fastest growing spirit in the world. 

After doubling in volume terms by 2020 compared to 2015, Bord Bia predicts a further twofold increase by 2030, to reach 24 million cases.

Bord Bia says the outlook for Irish beverage exports in 2017 looks ‘broadly positive’ thanks to continued growth in whiskey sales and the increasing range of craft products such as beers, whiskey and cream liqueurs produced in Ireland.

Exports driven by whiskey

In 2016, the value of the Irish agri-food and drink exports exceeded €11bn ($11.7bn) for the first time.

One of the notable events of the year was the UK’s decision to leave the EU. While Irish trade with the UK fell by 8%, attributed to factors such as challenging exchange rates and uncertainty arising from Brexit, this was offset by increased exports to international and emerging markets such as North America, China and the rest of Asia.

Beverages were one of the strongest performers in terms of export growth, up 4% from 2015 to €1.4bn ($1.5bn) against a backdrop of 2% for the overall food and drink sector.

Exports to Europe changed little, while those to the UK decreased slightly. But shipments to international market increased strongly, thanks to whiskey exports, particularly to the US, North America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Whiskey saw 8% growth in exports in 2016, reaching €505m ($536m). Growth was driven by strong exports to the US and Eastern Europe, and Germany and the UK to a lesser extent.

Craft beer on the rise

Beer and cider also recorded record export growth, with beer exports for the year estimated at €290m ($308m). Key markets for beer are the UK, France, Spain and Italy.

Meanwhile, craft beer is rising in importance: There are currently 90 operational microbreweries in Ireland and this number is set to exceed 100 by 2020. Craft beer exports have already increased twofold between 2011 and 2016.  

In the non-alcoholic beverage category, exports were boosted by stronger sales of mineral water, offsetting reduced exports in carbonated soft drinks.

“The outlook for Irish beverage exports in 2017 looks broadly positive helped by further growth in whiskey sales and the consolidation of Ireland’s position in existing markets coupled with growth in emerging markets,” ​reports Bord Bia.  

“Increased exports of premium products such as whiskey, craft beers and cream liqueurs produced in Ireland have helped improve our position in the global market.”

Maintaining export growth will require further product development and innovation to meet consumer demand for more authentic experiences, says the board.

“Currency developments, uncertainty regarding input prices coupled with the persistence of sluggish consumer sentiment in some markets will continue to determine the business development of Irish exporters.

“In terms of non-alcoholic beverages, the key will be to continue the consolidation of business with existing customers while also targeting new segments and channels. This will require further innovation and new product development while consumers are looking for more healthy options in terms of beverages.”

Destinations for Irish beverages 2016

Exports to the UK declined by around 3% to €380m ($404m) as stronger exports of beer, cider and whiskey were more than offset by reduced sales of non-alcoholic beverages. The strengthening of the euro against sterling further reduced the value of exports.

Exports to other European markets showed strong growth with an increase of more than 15% to an estimated €315m ($335m). Stronger exports of non-alcoholic beverages, beer, cream liqueurs and robust whiskey exports helped drive trade.

Exports to International markets grew further, largely due to higher whiskey exports to the US. Increased trade was also reported to Asia on the back of stronger whiskey and non-alcoholic beverages sales. International markets now account for half of total beverage exports.

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