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Export Performance and Prospects – Irish food and drink exports €13bn in 2020

15th January 2020

Cormac Nolan, Market Insight Specialist, Bord Bia - The Irish Food Board

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On January 13th Bord Bia launched its annual Performance and Prospects report. The launch event took a very different format than previous years with a fully virtual setting for messages from Minister McConalouge and Minister of State Heydon and a presentation of the results from Bord Bia CEO Tara McCarthy.

That virtual event structure reflected the very changed circumstances all of us have been operating in through the majority of 2020 – including food and drink exporters.

The value of food and drink exports from Ireland in 2020 was €13bn – a 2% decline on 2019’s record setting value. Holding the value of our exports to €13bn in 2020 is a firm indicator of the strength of industries twin track approach to diversifying global market penetration, while seeking to protect share in the valuable EU and UK markets in the face of continued volatility.

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Within those results were exceptional challenges for some categories, while other categories of export managed to counter with growth in the value of exports.

Most notable in this area is the continued strong growth of Ireland’s largest single category of food export – the dairy sector. 3% growth YOY to be worth more than €5bn for the second time is exceptional performance in a year of extraordinary disruption. The food service channel in most major export destinations was closed for substantial periods of the year.

Dairy is the most widely diversified in terms of destinations of export categories. 49% of all dairy exports go to destinations outside the UK or the EU – and it was those markets that drove continued growth for this sector in 2020. Exports to Africa increased substantially, particularly with an increase in cheese exports to North Africa.

The value of pigmeat exports rose 14% driven by the voracious demand for pigmeat imports in China and the affect that this is having on global pigmeat prices.

Alcohol exports were the most negatively affected of the categories in 2020, being particularly exposed to the closure of the on-trade and also the near total declines in the value of the airport retail channel.

Looking towards 2021, for Irish food and drink producers, we anticipate the global supply / demand dynamic for their produce remaining positive in 2021 despite global challenges and continued uncertainty.

Our business with Great Britain will become more complex in April of this year and then again in July, as various elements of its Border Operating Model come into effect. But we are very well prepared to leverage our competitiveness as we navigate Brexit and our fragile exit from the pandemic. 

All around the world consumers and customers are increasingly demanding credentials around sustainability that Ireland is well placed meet as we seek to differentiate ourselves from competitor exporting nations and to navigate gastro-nationalism in key markets.  With Bord Bia’s insight driven support, we remain focussed on partnering with this vibrant and resilient sector to pursue global growth in a very different world.

Much more detail on the overall context of Irish export performance and the performance of each category can be found in the full report which is available here.