Bord Bia officially launched its new ‘Spirit of Ireland’ drinks campaign in the US today (Wednesday, April 27, 2022) as part of the Irish government’s trade mission to North America and Mexico.

It is the single largest investment Bord Bia has made to date in the promotion of Irish spirits.

Spirit of Ireland is an educational programme aimed at US customer-facing staff selling Irish spirits in off-licenses and bars.

Bord Bia campaign

The €750,000 trade communications campaign comprises virtual reality tours of 20 of Ireland’s distilleries, featuring interviews with master distillers and barrel coopers so staff can learn first-hand from brand owners in Ireland what makes their product unique and distinctive.

The campaign offers a unique sensory experience using ‘scratch and sniff’ cards to smell and experience barley fields and barrel houses, all aimed at creating an in-depth understanding of Irish spirits.

The campaign will be rolled out with 17 liquor control boards in the US, the government agencies that regulate the sale of alcoholic beverages at a wholesale level in specific states. 

Officially launching the Spirit of Ireland drinks trade communication campaign with the Ohio Liquor Control Commission, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, said: “Irish spirits are now exported to over 130 countries around the world and experiencing a renaissance. 

“From Irish whiskey to Irish gin, and traditional Irish poitín to Irish cream liqueur, they form an evolving, innovative sector that is on a fast growth trajectory in the US. 

“Bord Bia’s new drinks trade communication campaign in the US demonstrates Ireland’s commitment to the US market, builds the awareness of this growing spirits category and positively influences commercial success,” he added.

Drinks exports to the US

Exports of Irish alcohol to the US have been strong in recent years – in 2021 Irish beverage exports to the US were valued at €657 million, up 17% from €561 million in 2020. 

That recovery was most robust in Irish whiskey and cream liqueur exports.  

Speaking at the launch of the Bord Bia event, Henry Horkan, Bord Bia North America director said: “US consumers appreciate the quality and taste of Irish spirits and Bord Bia is undertaking this activity to ensure the position of the spirits category is protected and strengthened.

“The primary aim of ‘Spirit of Ireland’ is to inform and educate the alcohol trade industry about the history and heritage of Irish spirits.

“Attendees learn the history, the renaissance and the future of Irish spirits allowing them to share this story widely both with their colleagues and consumers to inform, educate and overall, deliver increased commercial value on behalf of the Irish drink sector,” Horkan added.

“We believe this education programme will lead to more opportunities for Irish distilleries and for brands to increase their market presence in North America and gain preference amongst consumers.”

Last year Irish whiskey exports to the US were up 19% compared to 2020, he said, and pointed to the growing trend of premiumisation in the sector.

“Irish spirits have made a remarkable recovery since the pandemic and continue to grow year by year in the US,” Horkan continued.

“Over half of all Irish drinks exports are destined for the US, so there has never been a more opportune time to launch this trade programme, and it is the first time the Irish distilling sector has collectively come together to showcase its industry to a worldwide trade audience of buyers, customer-facing store personnel and influential stakeholders.

“The single most important current trend in the global spirits industry today is premiumisation and the Spirit of Ireland campaign will provide a unique opportunity for industry professionals in US retail and food service outlets to hear from some of Ireland’s most renowned industry innovators across all categories including Irish whiskey, which is the fastest-growing spirits category in the world.”

While being officially launched in Ohio as part of the trade mission, Spirit of Ireland will be further rolled out within key control state markets for Irish alcohol in the US and also in Canada over the course of 2022 and into 2023.

With 20 fully operational distilleries included as part of the virtual distiller tour, this is considered phase one of a commitment to have all of Ireland’s Origin Green verified distilleries included in the programme.

A further 10 distilleries will be included in Bord Bia’s virtual tour during the course of 2022, with others added as they commence production and with product available for export.

US market

The US is one of the most important markets for Irish alcohol with €657 million worth of exports in 2021 representing 51% of total exports (total exports of all Irish food and drink valued at €1.3 billion in 2021).

Notable 2021 performers are Irish whiskey at €441 million, up 19% from €370 million in 2020. Beer exports were valued at €56 million, up 84% from 2020.