Provisional estimates indicate sales in the food and drinks industry in Northern Ireland have increased to £4,772m in 2014, an increase of 5.8%.

This is a further increase from 2013, where sales in the sector increased by 6.8% from £4,222m in 2012 to £4,510m in 2013, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) says.

The results were published in DARD’s annual report, ‘Size and Performance of the Northern Ireland Food and Drinks Processing Sector, Subsector Statistics’.

Within the sector, the beef and sheepmeat and milk and milk products subsectors continued to be the largest subsectors in terms of gross turnover, for both 2012 and 2013, according to DARD.

Together, they accounted for 50% and 49% of the sector’s total gross turnover in these years respectively, it says.

In 2013, the sector is estimated to have contributed 3.8% of Northern Ireland’s total gross value added.

The report also found that the food and drinks processing sector, increased its share of the external sales (24%) and employment (28%) of the Northern Ireland manufacturing industry in 2013.

The sector’s proportion of total manufacturing sales (26%) and export sales (24%) remained unchanged, however, the sector’s share of manufacturing industry total value added decreased to 16%, it says.

The UK market continues to be the North’s largest outlet, DARD says, with sales increasing to £1,941m in 2013 (representing 43% of total sales).

The Republic of Ireland was the most important destination for export sales, accounting for approximately 16% of total sales in 2013 (£705m), according to DARD.

In both 2012 and 2013, the value of exports to markets outside of the UK exceeded those to the Northern Ireland domestic market, it says.