Irish food and drink exports rose by more than 3 per cent to a record high of €10.8 billion last year, according to new figures from Bord Bia.
This marks the sixth consecutive year of export growth with the body responsible for promoting Irish produce abroad saying increased output in key sectors, favourable exchange rate developments and better returns for beef, seafood and beverages, helped to offset a weakening in global dairy prices.
Exports of beverages did particularly well last year, up 10 per cent on 2014, boosted by sales of Irish Whiskey, which recorded an 18 per cent increase.
The figures show exports of beef and seafood rose 6 per cent and 4 per cent respectively while exports of dairy products also increased by 4 per cent, an impressive figure given the adverse trading environment globally. Exports of dairy products were led by strong growth in specialist nutrition powders, which jumped by 25 per cent globally and by 40 per cent in China alone.
Milk output was over 11 per cent higher during the first 10 months of the year, while pigmeat export volumes rose by 6 per cent. Sheepmeat increased by 3 per cent as did poultry exports.
Meanwhile, exports of prepared consumer food rose by 7 per cent to €2.5 billion making it the second largest export category after dairy.
Exports to the US, Ireland's second largest market for food and drink exports afte the UK, increased by 40 per cent to €755 last year, while exports to China, the country's fift most important market and the second largest for dairy and pork, were up 16 per cent. Exports to the Middle East grew 12 per cent but were weak in Russia and the African region.
"Irish food exporters registered record growth, increasing exports by some €355 million in a period when global food commodity prices declined by approximately 19 per cent, the Russian market was effectively closed to EU food exports, and consumer sentiment remained sluggish across the euro zone. This year will present further opportunities for growth in most sectors notwithstanding challenges from continued global dairy price pressures through the early months of 2016," said Bord Bia chief executive Aidan Cotter.
The Ibec-affiliated group Food and Drink Ireland (FDII) welcomed the latest figures with its director Paul Kelly calling for further measures to sustain export growth.
Separately, the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland said that in addition to the sharp rise in whiskey exports, the brewing sector had also performed well over the last few years.