Bord Bia reveals value of Irish food, drink and horticulture exports to the UK

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New figures released in the annual Bord Bia (The Irish Food Board) Export Performance and Prospects report 2021/2022 show that exports of Irish food, drink and horticulture to the UK have remained constant in value at €4.4 billion, compared to 2020.

Ireland exports about 90% of its food and drink production. Given the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the fact that the UK is now operating outside of the EU Customs Union, the performance of the Irish export sector was robust in 2021.

Bord Bia also published ambitious new three-year targets today 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.

Sustainability is a core theme within the new strategy as Bord Bia strengthens its supports and standards to reflect the high level of ambition required to meet both environmental challenges and market demands. As highlighted in Food Vision 2030, Origin Green has been instrumental in monitoring and driving improvements in environmental sustainability and demonstrating this to trade customers and consumers both at home and abroad. The challenges ahead are significant, but Origin Green provides a strong base from which to position Ireland as a global leader in sustainable food systems.

Overview of 2021 exports to the UK

  • The UK remains a primary export market for Ireland.  In 2021, 33% of Ireland’s total food and drink exports were destined for the UK. 34% were destined for international markets outside the UK and EU, while 33% were destined for the EU.
  • Two-thirds of Prepared Consumer Foods (PCF) are exported to the UK and experienced a 1% increase to €1.7 billion in 2021.
  • Global growth for Irish dairy continued, and exports to the UK increased by 1% to €926 million. This performance is positive given the record volumes of product, 460,000 tonnes, moved into the UK in 2020 ahead of expected Brexit related trading conditions. The UK remains the largest market for Irish cheese exports valued at over €360 million.
  • Beef exports retained strong demand, after a slow start in the first quarter.  This was due to contingency planning in case of a no-deal Brexit and subsequent stockpiling in the last quarter of 2020.  Volumes, however, increased month on month following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, the opening of foodservice and more experience with the new trading realities.  Irish beef exports to the UK were down marginally by 2% to €883 million. The UK is still the largest single market for Irish beef exports.
  • The UK remains the core market for Irish horticulture and cereals exports.  95% of horticulture exports went to the UK in 2021, which mirrored trade patterns in the previous year. The value of horticulture exports to the UK increased in value by 24% in 2021 to €268 million.
  • Despite Covid-19 and the closure of the UK on-trade bars and nightclubs for a percentage of the year, alcohol saw a 18% increase to €249 million driven by the growth of in-home consumption, leading to strong increases in sales in the off trade and further increases in sales through online channels.
  • Sheepmeat hasremained consistent with 2020 levels at €68 million.

Donal Denvir, Bord Bia General Manager, United Kingdom, said: “The continued strong performance of Irish exports clearly demonstrates the reliability and security of the Irish food, drink and horticulture manufacturing base during what has been an incredibly challenging year.

Bord Bia has been working tirelessly to support Irish suppliers navigate the effects of the pandemic and Brexit. Equally, we have ensured consistent engagement with UK customers across the retail, foodservice and manufacturing channels to highlight the benefits of sourcing produce from Ireland. 

We continue to remain a key strategic partner and supplier of food, drink and horticulture to the UK not only due to our close geographical proximity but also because we are aligned in quality and sustainability assurance standards.”

Launching the report today, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr. Charlie McConalogue, T.D., said: “Given the difficult external factors, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and our nearest trading partner the UK moving outside the EU Customs Union, this really was an outstanding export performance by the food and drink sector, supported by Bord Bia.”

“Our food and drink producers continue to innovate and seek new markets for their products, and it is truly heartening to see such an impressive performance from Ireland’s largest indigenous industry,” commented Minister McConalogue.

Bord Bia chief executive Tara McCarthy said the industry’s performance had been extraordinary. “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.

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 in Ireland. Businesses that, 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.

Sustainability will continue to be a key focus for Bord Bia both this year and in the years ahead, as we work in partnership with the Irish food, drink and horticulture industry to meet the Irish Government’s carbon reduction targets and sustainability challenges.”

Outlook and Prospects for Irish Food and Drink Exports in 2022: 

Ms McCarthy said that the industry needed to be cognisant of a number of key trends for this year, which were a combination of emerging issues and a longer-term shift in consumer behaviour and attitudes.

“Notwithstanding last year’s record performance, there are a number of challenges ahead for the Irish food and drink sector. 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.

“The increased focus on sustainability brings both challenges and opportunities for the food sector. Consumers want healthy, natural food and Ireland can deliver on that demand, but we must also work collectively and collaboratively to reduce carbon emissions to meet our 2030 commitments, and to further embed sustainability within all production, manufacturing, and distribution activities.”