Irish whiskey and RTDs help boost Irish drinks exports

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Ireland whiskey

Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, describes 2022 as a ‘landmark year’ for Irish drinks exports as the total value of drinks exports approached €2bn ($2.15bn): representing a 25% increase on pre-pandemic 2019 levels despite an ‘extremely challenging input cost environment’.

Total Irish whiskey exports – which account for around 60% of overall value growth last year - neared €1bn ($1.1bn) in value in 2022 – up 25% on 2021 – with North America continuing to be a key export destination.

“This highlights the resilience of the Irish drinks industry following the unprecedented difficulties experienced in recent years,”​ says the board.”

Irish whiskey drives exports - but strong growth in RTDs

This performance of the Irish drinks industry was driven by strong growth in the value of exports of Irish whiskey (up 25%) and Irish cream liqueur (up 14%) Having taken a hit during pandemic-stricken years, beer exports showed strong recovery (up 19%).

Ireland is also finding new opportunities in the RTD category: seeing robust growth in terms of export values more than doubling to €74m ($80m). Almost 80% of exports are to markets where the category is established such as the US and Australia.

Categories: export share by value, 2022

  • Whiskey: 53%
  • Liquers: 22%
  • Beer: 14%
  • Cider: 4%
  • Gin: 1%
  • Wine: 1%
  • Mead: 1%
  • Other: 4%

Premiumization of Irish drinks was one of the key factors in export value growth, says Bord Bia, with overall value growing at more than twice the rate of volumes.

But the sector still faces challenges in the wider environment. Dependent on energy, Irish drinks companies experienced higher input costs in 2022.

The availability and cost of glass, the cost of logistics and input price inflation added to the challenges facing the sector.

Additionally, some key emerging export markets such as China faced ongoing challenges related to Covid-19, but the reopening of the on-trade has benefited the industry, particularly for beer exports.

India set to become key Irish whiskey export destination

Meanwhile, the loss of two key markets - Russia and Ukraine - has forced some Irish companies to change course and diversify their target markets, which is reflected in the strength of growth in emerging markets.

India, for example, is now the largest Asian export market for Irish whiskey recording exceptional growth in 2022.

“Although there are significant regulatory and supply chain hurdles to entering the market, India is the largest whiskey market globally according to the IWSR (2022) and provides considerable growth potential for Irish whiskey in the future,”​ says Bord Bia.

Irish whiskey

Irish whiskey remains a key driver of growth: with exports estimated to be just under €1bn. It sits predominantly in the premium price category in most export markets, thus benefitting from premiumization trends globally.

Similar to overall drinks exports, Irish whiskey export values grew by 25%, outpacing growth in volumes, which highlights the impact of cost inflation and premiumization within the Irish whiskey sector.

The US represents 57% of export value: while markets such as Germany and France show positive growth of 20% and 10% respectively.

There is also strong growth in emerging markets such as Czech Republic, South Africa and Australia. And Bord Bia eyes up the potential of Irish whiskey in India: which doubled in value in 2022 to exceed €14m and representing 85% of total Irish drinks exports to the country.

2023 prospects

Despite the challenges, Board Bia says the prospects for Irish drinks exports in 2023 are broadly positive.

“Export performance in North America remains positive and this growth will continue to contribute strongly to the industry’s overall performance. The emergence of RTD exports from Ireland should further boost exports to the region.

"Established EU markets, such as Germany and France are also trending positively following the difficulties of the pandemic, notwithstanding the slower recovery of beer exports to France.

"The recovery in beer exports is expected to continue but they are unlikely to reach 2019 levels in 2023.

“However, as is the case with other sectors, the operating environment in 2023 could prove challenging due to increased inflation which could weaken consumer purchasing power in addition to further potential geopolitical and macroeconomic uncertainty. As restrictions related to the pandemic continue to be lifted in Asia, markets such as India, China, Japan and Singapore present opportunities for further growth.

"South Africa is now the leading growth market for Irish drinks in the African region but recovery is also expected in Nigeria as more Irish exports continue to enter the market. Other African countries such as Kenya are also trending positively as awareness of Irish spirits grows in the region.

“Globally, Irish drinks exports meet the premiumisation trend amongst consumers, particularly younger consumers, with the market segment expected to continue to outperform standard and value products in key export markets. The continued growth of online sales in markets such as the US and China should also boost exports for newer entrants to the market.

“The Global Travel Retail (GTR) channel, a key channel for premium spirits, is recovering albeit at a slower rate than expected.”​ (the channel is not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025 or 2026, according to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis).

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