New entrants bringing a renewed energy to thriving drinks industry
Sector now employs 90,000 people and produced exports worth €1.4bn last year
Oliver Loomes: “ Exports of Irish drink products have been growing every year . . We are in a golden age of innovation and that is helping to drive that growth.”
The rapid growth in Ireland’s drinks industry is being fuelled by a combination of energetic new entrants and innovation on the part of established players and the increased competition is good for everyone involved.
“All boats rise,” he says. “It’s great to see all the new distilleries and breweries. The new entrants are bringing energy, creativity and dynamism to the industry and we are all benefiting from that.”
He also points to the importance of the industry for the economy.
“It employs 90,000 people and had €1.4 billion in exports last year. It’s also a major purchaser of supplies from the agricultural and other sectors.”
The level of dynamism in the industry might come as a surprise to some people, Loomes adds.
“Many people think the industry has been around for aeons and will be quite mature and slow moving but it’s among the most vibrant sectors in the country. People know that Guinness has been around since 1759 and that Jameson established in Dublin since 1780.
“The industry has been here for an awfully long time but it’s also one of the most innovative sectors in the country. The dynamism and innovation in the industry is second to none. It’s the fastest growing manufacturing sector in Ireland in terms of new entrants and start-ups.”
The growth has indeed been quite dramatic.
“There were 32 businesses in Ireland with alcohol manufacturing licences in 2009. In 2017 there were 137 and there are even more now. New distilleries and new breweries are popping up all the time. It’s a very healthy industry. And we are seeing that growth across a range of different types of products and segments. It’s also across different geographies, cities, towns and rural locations. The growth is diverse and broad-based and that’s good news. There is tremendous energy in the industry at present.”
From a product perspective, the growth is spread across spirits, beers and other products.
“We are seeing great innovation, dynamism and energy across all of them. Irish whiskey is now possibly the fastest growing premium spirit category in the world. There were four whiskey distilleries in Ireland not too long ago, now there are 24.”
Diageo is opening its own Roe & Co distillery at the old power station in St James’s Gate, he notes.
“That’s not the only new distillery. There is the Pearse Lyons Distillery nearby and Teelings in Newmarket Square also quite near. I can name multiple examples of these new exporting businesses creating beautiful products. Gin is another very exciting sector. There are now 26 producers making more than 60 gin brands. If you look at some of the artisan craft gin producers, it’s a really fantastic dynamic sector. They are also growing strongly overseas.”
Another distinctively Irish success story is, of course, cream liqueur.
“Baileys is still performing very well on the global stage,” he says.
“Seven million cases a year of Baileys Cream Liqueur are sold across the world and it grew by 5 per cent last year. Baileys and the other Irish cream liqueur manufacturers are innovating all the time with new flavours and so on. It’s great to see how Ireland can match the best in the world when it comes to innovation and premium product development.”
The Irish beer market has undergone something of a revolution over the past decade.
“It’s been great to see the growth of craft beer and all the new microbreweries opening up,” says Loomes.
“It’s fantastic to see smaller producers create really interesting beers. We’re doing some interesting stuff in that area ourselves with the Opengate Brewery which allows the public to come in an taste new beer offerings. It’s like a laboratory for beer with real time consumer feedback. That’s where Hop House 13 came from.”
And it’s not all about alcohol.
“If you think about lighter end of the spectrum there is a lot happening there as well. The same is true of the non-alcoholic and low alcohol end. We are seeing significant growth there. And it’s not just the big companies and the huge multinationals who are responsible for this. It’s smaller companies and single entrepreneurs opening up small scale operations.”
Interestingly, while the industry is growing, alcohol consumption in Ireland has been declining.
“Average consumption in Ireland has declined by 25 per cent over the past 15 years, it’s dropped by 1 to 2 per cent every year over that period,” says Loomes.
“People are drinking better, not more. Exports of Irish drink products have been growing every year, however. We are in a golden age of innovation and that is helping to drive that growth.
“We are delighted that we are in such a positive place at the moment. We want to maintain that and ensure that we continue to have an environment that encourages the growth and development of the industry.”