Irish whiskey exports reached around €600m ($717m) in 2017, with growth largely driven by interest from North America. Meanwhile, cream liqueurs were another top performer, rising 10% to reach more than €300m ($358m).
“Growth in beverage exports continued to build on the 2016 performance with an overall global rise of 8% to almost €1.5bn ($1.8bn),” says Bord Bia in its 2017-2018 Export Performance and Prospects report, released this week.
“Continued demand for premium spirit and liqueur products drives this performance across key international markets. Consumers continue to seek out status brands in this sector and the association with Ireland has proved a compelling narrative in the building of brand equity for Irish products.”
Whiskey up, beer down
The growth in Irish Whiskey follows on from 2016, when exports of the spirit grew 8% to €505m ($603m). With continued interest in whiskey and premium products, Bord Bia predicts Ireland will double 2015 export volumes by 2020, and then double them again in the following decade.
In 2017 the US market for Irish Whiskey grew 16% to more than €240m ($287m) while European markets also saw growth: including France to €17.6m ($21m) and the EU27 as a whole by 14% to €111m ($133m).
“This growth trajectory looks set to continue for Irish Whiskey as new markets are developed and premium products gain market share,” says Bord Bia.
“Irish whiskey is the fastest growing spirit category in the world - growing by 131% in the past decade - and many major drinks conglomerates are seeking to have Irish whiskey brands in their portfolios.
“Production capacity is increasing in line with this demand: from just four distilleries in 2013 the industry now has eighteen with a further sixteen in planning. Whiskey manufacturing also has a strong relationship with the tourism industry.
“In tandem with the growth in whiskey distilling has come a surge in domestic gin production with a multitude of premium brands emerging; exports are growing fast albeit from a very low base.”
Beer, however, posted a relatively flat performance overall, declining marginally to €280m ($334m).
The biggest setback was in the US where sales fell by 8% to €40.5m ($48.4m). The category had a better performance elsewhere with gains in the MENA area matched by strong growth in key EU markets like France, Germany and Italy pushing overall exports to the region up by around 10% to almost €44m ($53m).
Like whiskey, craft beer offers premium potential.
“The craft beer industry is another area where premium brands are being produced around the country with domestic market share growing to 3.4%,” says Bord Bia.
“The growth in new entrants to the craft beer category has slowed however. This is not surprising as the number of brands now exceeds 100, and export has become more of an imperative.
"The category as a whole is continuing to grow internationally, with innovation at the core. Irish suppliers are well placed to develop exports to these markets, with the US, France and Italy offering the greatest potential.”
‘Significant opportunities evident in beverages’
In other sectors cider exports were down, juice exports rose, water fell back to 2015 levels while other non-alcoholic beverage exports also declined in 2017.
The total value of Irish food, drink and horticulture exports increased by 13% in 2017, to reach €12.6bn ($15.1bn) for the first time and marking the eighth successive year of growth.
Dairy exports saw particular success, rising 19% to more than €4bn ($4.8bn).
The UK remains the most important market for overall F&B exports, but the Irish Food Board warns that sterling volatility, combined with slower economic growth, food inflation and lower wage forecasts will put further pressure on the UK market as an export destination.
However, CEO Tara McCarthy, remains optimistic about the industry’s prospects for the year ahead “While Brexit remains the great unknown, we still expect 2018 to be another year of growth, albeit at lower levels,” she said.
“Our key export categories, dairy and beef, remain stable with further volume growth anticipated. This coupled with the significant opportunities evident in beverages, in particular Irish Whiskey, provide further reasoning for the positive outlook.”
Top markets for beverage exports
Ireland exports beverages to 130 markets worldwide, with the US, UK, Canada, Germany and France making up the top five markets.
Whiskey accounts for over a third of exports (36%), while liqueurs make up 21%, beer 20%, waters 9%, cider 4% and juices 5%.
The Japanese market was the best performing Asian country with sales rising 30% to €9m in 2017.