Irish whiskey exports fall 14% in 2023

Exports of Irish whiskey plummeted by double digits last year due to a decline in the US, a new report by Bord Bia showed.

The Irish government-run food agency, Bord Bia, released its Export Performance and Prospects report 2023/24, which revealed that the country’s drinks exports fell by 8% to €1.8 billion (US$1.97bn).

Irish whiskey, which holds a 49% value share of Irish drinks exports, declined by 14% to €875 million (US$959m) in 2023. The value of Irish whiskey exports surpassed €1bn (US$1.07bn) for the first time in 2022.

Irish cream liqueurs (with a 21% share of Irish drinks exports) fell by 9% to €370m (US$406m) last year.

Bord Bia attributed the decline for whiskey and cream liqueurs to a stock build-up in North America in 2022 after supply-chain issues, as well as a squeeze on consumer spending due to higher inflation and interest rates.

The decrease for Irish whiskey was offset by a strong performance in other markets such as the EU (up by 17%) and the UK (up by 38%). Emerging markets also reported double-digit growth for whiskey, including Nigeria (up by 59%), Poland (up by 21%), Singapore (up by 55%) and South Korea (up by 11%).

Citing IWSR Drinks Market Analysis 2023 data, Bord Bia said approximately 91% of Irish whiskey retail sales in the US are within the premium-and-above price bands. The latest analysis from IWSR suggests that premiumisation and drinking ‘less but better’ is continuing as a trend globally, but a slowdown in this trend is likely due to the ongoing inflation and higher interest rates in key export markets.

Key export markets for Irish cream liqueurs in 2023 were the US which totalled €155m (US$170m), Canada at €40m (US$44m), and Germany (€20m/US$22m). Export values to the US fell by almost 4% with sales to Canada and Germany declining by 28% and 7% respectively.

There was growth in some emerging markets for cream liqueurs across Europe including the Czech Republic, which more than doubled. Exports to the UK, a key market, also eased by 20% in 2023.

Gin slowdown

Irish gin experienced a slowdown in exports in 2023 after five consecutive years of strong growth.

Exports of Irish gin, which has a 1% share of the country’s drinks exports, declined by 20% to €20m last year.

Bord Bia highlighted a positive performance for gin in the UK, which soared by 82% to hit nearly €3m (US$3.3m) in 2023. There was also strong growth recorded in France, Germany, Italy and Turkey.

North America continues to be the leading export market for Irish drinks, representing 40% of the sector’s total export value.

Bord Bia noted that global travel retail continues to recover steadily. Citing IWSR data, the channel is expected to return to 2019 levels by 2025.

South Africa remains the strongest export market by value within Africa for the Irish drinks sector.

Looking to 2024, glass prices remain a challenge for the Irish drinks sector. While glass costs have steadied in 2023, they are still higher on average than previous years.

Bord Bia said prospects for the drinks sector ‘remain positive for 2024 and beyond given its strong position in the premium segment of key export markets’.

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Author: Nicola Carruthers