Irish Spirits and beer producers eye new export markets as world turns green for St Patricks Day

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Irish drinks sales grew in Japan, Russia, Nigeria and South Africa in 2017
    • Irish whiskey exports to United States increased by almost 17 per cent in 2017
    • Irish craft beer now exporting to Hong Kong, Singapore, Serbia, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Australia
    • Irish gin now taking on British gin in London

Ireland’s drinks industry exports to over 130 markets and is eyeing new opportunities in 2018, according to Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI), which has released an analysis of exports from the drinks industry ahead of St. Patrick’s Day. According to the analysis, the top 5 markets for drinks exports in 2017 were the UK, Germany, France, Canada and the United States. Overall, Irish beverage exports rose by 8 per cent last year to €1.5 billion.

In 2017, overall EU sales rose to €327m, up 4 per cent versus 2016. There was steady growth in EU markets such as Germany, France, the Netherlands and Spain. Exports to North America also rose steadily to some €650m in 2017, driven by the growing popularity of Irish whiskey as well as a strong performance from Irish cream liqueurs in the United States.

The Japanese market was the best performing of the Asian countries in 2017, with sales rising by 30 per cent to €9m. Elsewhere, Russia recorded solid growth to €14m in 2017, while sales to Africa also increased in 2017 with Irish beer proving popular in Nigeria. According to the industry, drinks producers will continue to take advantage of opportunities in these markets in 2018 and beyond.

Some of the bigger players in the market like Irish Distillers are also exporting to non-typical markets including Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Korea and Cameroon.

In terms of categories, Irish beer continues to perform strongly. Some 40 per cent of beer produced in Ireland is exported and Ireland is the 8th biggest exporter of beer in the EU.

Meanwhile, the surge in popularity of premium Irish spirits continued to drive export growth in 2017. According to the latest CSO stats, Irish whiskey exports grew by almost 15 per cent in 2017. 2017 also saw a breakthrough for Irish gin, with 30 brands now on the market. 2018 is set to see Irish gin going global, with exports expected to grow significantly in the US, Canadian, UK and German markets. Irish cream liqueur exports are also expected to grow in 2018, after the product recovered from a ‘lost decade’ in 2017 and exported 100 million bottles globally.

Seamus O'Hara Founder and CEO of Carlow Brewing company said:

"Our Irish craft beers are now exporting to over 35 countries and we are experiencing double-digit growth year on year. Currently the biggest markets for O’Hara’s products are France, Italy and the USA. Canada has become a big market for our Traditional Irish Stout, and Germany performed exceptionally well for us in 2017. In the last 12 months we have also seen new markets open up in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Singapore, Serbia, Bulgaria and Ukraine. We have also just sent beer to Australia for the first time.”

Brian Fagan, Founder of Glendalough Distillery said:

“We are now exporting our whiskey, gin and poitin to over 40 countries around the globe and we forecast 80 per cent of our sales will be export driven in 2018. The US is our largest export market with Canada also enjoying rapid growth for both Irish whiskey and more recently premium Irish Gin. Russia has also become a significant market for us over the past couple of years. Our Wild Botanical Gin is extremely popular in Selfridges and Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge and Gerry’s of Soho in London.”

Patricia Callan, Director of Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI) said:

“Ireland’s drinks industry is an export powerhouse and this analysis confirms the distance our quality products reach, from London to Cameroon and beyond. Based on Bord Bia research, we know that consumers around the world are continuing to choose our premium products and the association with Ireland is proving powerful.

“However, there are challenges ahead. We are concerned about the unintended negative consequences from the advertising and labelling measures being proposed in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. Small producers and new entrants that aren’t as established as Carlow Brewing Company and Glendalough Distillery need to be able to grow in the home market before exporting and the Government should not prevent this by creating an uncompetitive market.”