New figures released in the annual Bord Bia Export Performance and Prospects report 2020/2021 show that the value of exports of Irish food, drink and horticulture were held to a marginal 2% decline in 2020, valued at €13 billion (v €13.2 billion in 2019), during a period of unprecedented change and challenge that saw the largest disruption to normal market operation, globally, since the end of World War II.
The figures underline the dividend of a decade-long diversification strategy that has seen Ireland achieve a broad global base for its food and drink exports which now reach in excess of 180 countries.
Increases have been recorded in the value of Irish dairy, pigmeat and sheepmeat exports, along with very significant increases in the value of exports to Africa and the Middle East as new international markets come to the fore.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, T.D., said: “Ireland’s food and drink producers faced many challenges on the domestic and international front last year arising from the economic impacts of the pandemic, closures of food service and changes in consumer behavior. Despite this, they found a new level of resilience that saw exports in 2020 of close to 2019 levels.
Total agri-food exports, including non-edible products not included in Bord Bia data, are estimated by my Department at €14.3 billion in 2020, compared to €14.5 billion the previous year. I pay particular tribute to our farmers as well as our food and drink producers for their heroic efforts in supporting a balanced economy in 2020 despite dealing with a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic.
“In 2021, my Department, along with Bord Bia, will focus on supporting our primary producers and manufacturers as they trade through continued uncertainty to support jobs and communities throughout Ireland.”
Chief Executive of Bord Bia, Tara McCarthy, added: “Behind the remarkable export performance of our food and drink sector in 2020 are seismic challenges at a strategic, category and channel level. Last year was a pivotal year of learning for us all and 2021 will be even more significant in terms of how we apply these learnings to rebuild and drive growth in new and emerging markets. The success of the industry’s transition to doing business virtually – from participation at online trade fairs to the development of pioneering virtual trade missions – show that we can, and we will, rise to the challenge of doing business in new and inventive ways. This resourceful approach, coupled with the sectors’ focus on geographic and customer diversification over the past decade has now paid dividends and is integral to safeguarding our exports.” Outlook & Prospects for Irish Food and Drink Exports in 2021:
Commenting on the outlook for 2021, Ms. McCarthy concluded: “For Irish food and drink producers, the global supply demand dynamic for their produce remains positive in 2021 despite global challenges and continued uncertainty as we navigate Brexit and our fragile exit from the pandemic. As we start 2021, exporters are reporting solid order volumes which is a direct result of the strength of trading relationships nurtured over many years. That said, the extra costs and complexities of trade with our largest destination market, as new customs procedures interrupt the smooth flow of produce, will cause significant challenges and should not be underestimated.
With a return to global economic growth forecast for 2021, we anticipate continued strong global demand for Irish dairy. We expect the global meat supply balance to favour producers, particularly in Asia which has been at the centre of much Irish export growth. All around the world consumers and customers are increasingly demanding credentials around sustainability that Ireland is well-placed to meet as we seek to differentiate ourselves from competitor exporting nations and to navigate gastro-nationalism in key markets. Our action plans, programmes and priorities for 2021 and beyond are centred on value creation for the full supply chain – from farm to fork. 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.” Dairy: Dairy continued its growth trajectory into 2020 delivering a 3% uplift in the value of exports to €5.2 billion; the second year that dairy exports exceeded the €5 billion mark.
Meat and Livestock: The second largest category in Irish food and drink exports, the meat and livestock sector, delivered a resilient performance in 2020 with a 2% increase in total value to €3.4 billion.
Horticulture: Horticulture and cereals exports increased by 8% to €221 million in 2020 with the UK being the core market. The primary constituents of this export mix are mushrooms, primary cereals and amenity horticulture. The value of mushroom exports rose by 14% to €115 million.
Prepared Consumer Foods (PCF): Prepared consumer foods (PCF) exports in 2020 were worth €2.5 billion, representing a 4% reduction year-on-year due to channel disruption brought on by the pandemic.
Alcohol: Covid-19 has had a significant impact on alcohol exports. Alcohol exports overall were down 19% in 2020 to €1.3 billion. Notwithstanding that decline, the value of alcohol exports remains 12% higher than they were pre-Brexit in 2016 underscoring the scale of the growth trajectory in this category in recent years. The majority of the decline can be accounted for by declines in the value of exports of whiskey (-€205m), cream liqueurs (-€53m) and beer (-€51m).