Irish food and drink exports hit a record high of €13.5 billion in 2021, according to Bord Bia’s Performance and Prospects report 2021/2022, which was published this morning (Wednesday, January 12).

This is a 4% growth on the figure for 2020, and equates to an average of €37 million in food and drink exports/day last year.

Ireland exports about 90% of its food and drink production and the performance of the export sector “was robust in 2021” according to Bord Bia, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the fact that the UK is now outside the EU Customs Union.

The value of Irish food and drink exports last year – which served 180 countries – was 2% higher than pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

Dairy sector exports, which were worth more than €5 billion last year, remain the largest element within Irish food and drink exports; followed by meat and livestock, which generated over €3.5 billion in export sales; and prepared consumer foods, which were worth more than €2.5 billion.

Also today, the Irish food board published new three-year targets to “further contribute to the growth in the value-chain of Irish food and drink exports” as part of the launch of its new 10-year ‘Statement of Strategy’.

The plan envisages a “significant expansion” in the value growth of Irish food and drinks exports during the period, including an 11% increase in the value of dairy, meat, and livestock exports, and a 14% jump in prepared consumer food exports.

Environmental sustainability is a “key focus” of these plans, Bord Bia said, with Origin Green providing a “strong base” in sustainable food systems.

“The sector’s ability to beat its 2019 performance and deliver a record year for Irish exports is truly impressive, and Irish food and drink producers and manufacturers deserve huge credit.”

Tara McCarthy, Bord Bia CEO, said: “While we understandably focus on the headline figures, it is worth remembering that within those billions and millions are businesses and farms in every county and indeed, almost every parish in the country.

“[These] businesses, whether large or small, are run by people who have faced tremendous challenges over the past 20 months, both professional and personal. It is our privilege in Bord Bia to support these wonderful risk-takers, visionaries, and innovators,” McCarthy added.

Commenting on the launch of the report, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue said: “Given the difficult external factors, such as Covid-19 and our nearest trading partner, the UK, moving outside the EU Customs Union, this really was an outstanding export performance, supported by Bord Bia.

“I pay tribute to our farmers, our fishers, and our food producers, as well as the processing and marketing sectors who drove this incredible performance.”

Looking forward to this coming year, Minister of State for new market development Martin Heydon said: “We are focused on nurturing the established markets close to home, while simultaneously identifying and investing in high potential emerging markets.

“In that context, I look forward to again working closely with Bord Bia on a targeted series of trade missions and market development and promotion events to our key markets during the next 12 months,” Minister Heydon added.

In terms of export destination, the UK still accounts for about one-third (33%) of Ireland’s food and drink exports (another 33% went to the EU and 34% went to third countries).

The value of exports destined for the UK saw a “slight decline” to €4.4 billion. The value of exports to the EU increased by 2% to €4.5 billion.

The report noted that the US market “rebounded strongly”, with export values up 22% to €1.3 billion, driven by strong whiskey and liqueur sales.

The value of exports to Africa grew by 12% to €918 million last year, while exports to southeast Asia increased by 20% to exceed €500 million for the first time.

Despite the strong performance in several sectors, McCarthy sounded a word of caution, pointing to challenges in the coming year.

“These include increased supply chain and input costs, which are affecting producers and processors, and the ongoing impact of Brexit, which has yet to be fully implemented.

“A tightening labour market has been reported by many companies in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors and this is driving increased costs, which it is proving very difficult for producers to recoup from customers,” the Bord Bia CEO added.

McCarthy also pointed to increasing sustainability demands from consumers as a further potential challenge – but also a potential opportunity.