Additional reporting by Charles O’Donnell

Irish food and drink exports reached a record €13 billion in 2019, according to Bord Bia’s Export Performance and Prospects Report 2019/2020.

However, export levels varied greatly depending on the sector, as the document detailed.

In a breakdown of performance by different sectors, the Bord Bia report recorded what was a mixed year overall.


Ireland’s dairy sector grew in value by 11% in 2019 to €4.4 billion.

Despite weakening commodity prices, particularly in key categories like butter, 2019 represented the third consecutive year in which the value of exports exceeded €4 billion, according to the document.

Reaching a value of €1.2 billion, butter remained the category leader in 2019. This 13% uplift in export value of butter was achieved in the context of a decrease in EU prices, as well as some stocking forward in the US, in anticipation of the sectoral tariffs that came into effect in the last quarter of 2019.

Increasing diversification proved fruitful for Irish cheese exporters, with an overall increase of 22% in exports derived from strong performance in continental Europe, as well as in the UK, which remains Ireland’s primary market for cheese exports.

Growing consumer interest in non-domestic offerings fuelled growth in the US market, whilst strengthening demand for Ireland’s cheese in China was bolstered by a growing food-services sector.

Meat and livestock

2019 represented a mixed year for Ireland’s second pillar of exports – meat and livestock – recording a 1% decrease in value to €3.9 billion.

The decrease was driven by a challenging year for beef and sheepmeat while there were very strong category performance across both poultry and pigmeat, Bord Bia notes in the report.

Beef production fell by 3% in throughput, which was somewhat offset by a 1.5% increase in carcass weight, which was the result of better grazing conditions in 2019. This culminated in a total production of 624,000t in 2019.

It was noted that weakened demand for beef in the UK market contributed to a continuing tightening of Irish beef prices and an overall market decline of 7%, with the UK beef market now worth €990 million to Ireland.

Interestingly, the report states that China, when combined with Hong Kong, now represents Ireland’s largest international market for beef with a combined value of €58 million across the two territories.

Meanwhile, sheepmeat exports were down 7% to €294 million, due to a combination of weakening demand and supply challenges, according to Bord Bia.

In contrasting fortunes, as a result of extremely strong demand globally, pigmeat prices were up significantly through 2019.

Irish pigmeat export values approached €1 billion for the first time – FY2019 value is estimated at €941 million.

China’s increasing import need in pigmeat as a result of the reduction of its own domestic herd was unsurprisingly the key driver of this price increase.

Finally, on the back of a successful diversification effort across the UK, the rest of the EU and South Africa, Irish poultry producers delivered another year of export growth, increasing by 5% to €306 million.


Spearheaded by strong growth in Irish whiskey, Irish alcohol exports increased by 8% to €1.45 billion in 2019.

Driven in the US by strategic positioning in the premium and super-premium segments, Irish whiskey exports grew by 11% in 2019 to €727 million.

The cream liqueur sector held firm with overall export sales of 7.9 million cases; this, the report notes, is despite the challenges of US tariffs on EU dairy, coupled with increased pressure from domestic suppliers in Canada impacting the North American market.

High demand and stocking-forward in the UK resulted in strong performance for cider producers in 2019, whilst beer production enjoyed 1% growth with strengthening demand in continental Europe.


Edible horticulture and cereal exports were up 8% to €248 million in 2019. The year proved to be a challenging one for Irish mushroom producers, who account for over 42% of all Irish horticulture exports.

Currency volatility, cost increases and uncertainty in the UK consumer market – the destination for almost all Irish mushroom exports – resulted in continued consolidation in the sector.

Despite this, the category’s exports grew in 2019 by 4% to €104 million.

Prepared Foods and Prepared Consumer Foods

Irish exports of prepared consumer foods and prepared foods returned to growth in 2019 following a challenging 2018. Exports from the prepared foods sector increased by 12% to €2.32 billion.

Exports of prepared consumer foods increased by 2% to €2.66 billion, with the UK accounting for 67% of these exports.

Despite the uncertainty around Brexit, exports of prepared consumer foods to the UK rose by 1% in 2019.

Opportunities in the private label sector and growth in the enriched powders category have proven to be key engines of growth for the sector, according to Bord Bia.