Ireland’s spirits sector showed resilience last year in the face of the domestic and global challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, with exports up by roughly 25%, according to a new report released today.
Overall exports were valued at around €1.2 billion.
The Spirits Market Report 2021 from Drinks Ireland|Spirits showed that domestic spirits sales rebounded last year, as hospitality venues reopened in the second half of the year, up by 8% to 2.55 million litres sold.
Vodka (29.9%), Irish Whiskey (25.04%) and Gin (14.43%) were the most popular spirits in Ireland.
This comes as overall alcohol consumption continues to decline here, down by 4.7% last year, and over 30% in the past 20 years, according to data from the Revenue Commissioners.
Ireland’s protected spirits (Irish Whiskey, Irish Cream and Poitín) performed strongly, with global sales up by 21% in 2021.
The US, UK and Canada were the top three markets.
Irish Whiskey’s spectacular growth was notable once again, with global sales reaching 14 million cases.
Irish Cream Sales
Meanwhile, Irish Cream’s global sales followed a similar strong trajectory and are expected to top 10 million cases for the first time ever this year.
Bryan Fallon, managing director of Heaven Hill Ireland, which is the brand owner of Carolan’s Irish Cream liqueur and Irish Mist Honey liqueur, and Chair of Drinks Ireland|Spirits, said, “Last year was another challenging one for Ireland’s spirits sector, which again demonstrated strong resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was positive to see a rebound in domestic sales and exports in the second half of the year as hospitality venues reopened.
“In order to enable us to fully rebound in a timely manner and further support the economy, we would call for an excise cut in the upcoming Budget. With the third highest excise on spirits in the EU, Ireland levies a disproportionate percentage of the tax burden on distilleries who are promoting Ireland on the global stage."
The Ready to Drink (RTD) category continued to emerge in Ireland, mirroring the global trend. Last year, sales of cocktails and long drinks in Ireland grew by 60%, while hard seltzers were up by 46% and flavoured alcoholic beverages rose by 27%.
A number of local producers have entered the RTD market, with sales of Irish RTD brands up by 7.4% between 2020 and 2021.
Another trend in Ireland is the growing popularity of no and low alcohol products. While beer and cider brands lead this trend here, the no and low spirits category has started to emerge with sales up by 313% last year, albeit from a low base.
The reopening of international travel resulted in a modest recovery of sales in the Global Travel Trade market last year, but a full recovery is anticipated to be in line with travel returning to pre-pandemic levels.
Vincent McGovern, director of Spirits at Drinks Ireland, commented, “In 2021, almost all the various spirit categories saw an increase in sales, which was positive to see after the impact of Covid. As a strong export-led industry, free and open trade remains vital. As such a number of challenges remain for the sector, including the continued fallout from Brexit.”