Irish exports bounce back

Irish whiskey exports soared by 25% to reach €856m in 2021, according to new government gures, which also show that cream liqueur exports increased 19% to €367m, while gin exports were up 38%, albeit from a lower base.

Beer exports were down 3% to €246m due to on-trade closures around the world, but cider enjoyed a strong rally and grew 50%. 

Overall, the value of Ireland’s alcoholic drink exports increased 19% to hit a record €1.62bn. 

It marks a full recovery from the pandemic. In 2019, exports increased 8% year on year to hit €1.45bn. They fell 19% in 2020 to just €1.3bn, which was a sharper decline than the one suffered during the height of the global financial crisis in 2008. 

However, exports came roaring back last year as the Covid-19 recovery gathered pace. The figures from government agency Bord Bia show that North America was the largest market for Irish drinks exports, representing 51% of the total. Exports to the UK increased 20% to €255m. Exports to the rest of the EU are still down by 6% compared to pre-pandemic times, but the situation is improving. 

Patricia Callan, director of Drinks Ireland, said: “The new figures illustrate the resilience of the Irish drinks industry, which demonstrated strong recovery last year after the difficulties of 2020, with overall exports returning to 2019 levels. 

“The prospects for the drinks sector are broadly positive for 2022, with recovery expected to continue in the spirits sector, despite challenges in relation to inflation across the supply chain. A recovery in beer exports is also anticipated. 

“Irish drinks producers continue to demonstrate remarkable innovation in response to trends in export markets. The report highlights the move towards premiumisation, as consumers drink less but better, and Ireland’s quality drinks products t very well into this niche. 

“There has also been an increase in ecommerce delivery in key markets, as well as a growth in at-home cocktail culture.” 

It was a strong year all round for the Irish whiskey industry. It witnessed the inclusion of new rules of origin in a UK-Australia free trade agreement to protect cross-border Irish whiskey supply chains on the island of Ireland. 

Tariffs on Irish whiskey in the US and Nigeria were scrapped, while levies in Canada were reduced, particularly in Ontario and Quebec. US tariffs on Northern Irish single malts also ended. More than 90% of Irish whiskey sales around the world are now subject to legal protection, but the Irish Whiskey Association still initiated investigations of 55 infringements of the Irish Whiskey Geographical Indication in 2021. 

William Lavelle, head of the Irish Whiskey Association, said: “Our vision is to secure the position of Irish whiskey as one of the world’s leading spirit categories, built on a vibrant and sustainable industry. To deliver on this vision, we aspire for the Irish Whiskey Association to be the most effective and dynamic spirits category association in the world. 

“In 2021, our association secured substantial achievements on international trade, protection, and regulatory matters, all of which benefit the entire Irish whiskey industry. With the active commitment and contribution of our many member companies, we look forward to achieving more in 2022.”