Drinks exporters eye US growth

Ray Ryan reports on Bord Bia’s and the Department of Agriculture’s efforts to support the export ambitions of Irish beverage companies

Drinks exporters eye US growth

EXPORTS of Irish beverages to the United States last year grew to over €514 million with whiskey by far the most popular tipple.

The importance of the US market, as Brexit negotiations begin, was highlighted when 25 Irish drinks exporters took part in a trade showcase in Chicago earlier this month. They engaged with Binny’s Beverage Depot, the largest drinks retailer in the US Mid-West, and other on-trade customers from the region.

The showcase was part of a week-long trade mission to the US and Mexico, headed by Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed.

He said the United States is the destination for almost 45% of Irish whiskey, the fastest growing spirits brand globally with exports of 3.7m cases.

The 2016 figure represents an increase of 8.5% on the previous year and an increase of 47% over the last five years.

“Ireland was a key player in the whiskey business of the US up to the early part of the last century and lost ground for a variety of reasons. I am determined our new and impressive progress will endure,” he said.

Bord Bia used the opportunity to inform US trade and retail customers how Ireland‘s investment in consumer insight, routes to market and the Origin Green sustainability programme can deliver benefits for their business.

Bord Bia chief executive, Tara McCarthy, said that the consumer and market insight highlighted the US as a priority destination for Irish drinks — given its size as well as the appetite for new flavours.

She said the breadth and depth of the Irish product range in Binny’s Beverage Depot was proof of how far the industry had come in such a relatively short time.

“We have invested over 1,000 hours in research over the last three years to appreciate the evolving US consumer tastes.

“Bord Bia’s research identified three key areas of focus for Irish whiskey to ensure success, namely native personality, maturity and flavour complexity.

“We have worked with over 20 Irish companies in the past three years to meet these demands through consumer insight and branding as well as market research and trade shows.

“Bord Bia has also partnered with these companies to get ‘feet on the street‘ in the US market through our talent development programmes,” she said.

Tara McCarthy said Bord Bia will continue to target key buyers with the aim of bringing 10 of them to its Marketplace trade event in 2018.

She said this will give the buyers the opportunity to meet with Irish suppliers and provide them with guided itineraries to ensure that they feel the full impact of Ireland’s sustainable production system.

During the visit to Binny’s Beverage Depot, the Minister and Bord Bia chief executive met with Brett Pontoni, the company’s purchasing director.

He is a keen supporter of Ireland’s beverage industry, having attended Bord Bia’s Marketplace event in 2015.

Mr Brett said he was delighted with the response of US consumers to the breadth and depth of Irish drinks stocked in Binny’s Beverage Depot.

“New brands from Ireland are building an enthusiastic following by offering a new taste and are seen as different and independent.

“Bord Bia‘s assistance to companies in telling their individual stories and providing resources on the ground is building on Ireland‘s already renowned reputation for alcohol production.

“Being able to tell a story about sustainable production through the Origin Green programme, appeals to millennials, who are key to the future growth of the sector,” he said.

Bord Bia’s relationships with the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America has also helped Irish companies identify and establish commercial partnerships with US importers and distributors. Ireland also enjoys the privilege of being the only national exhibitor at the Beverage Alcohol Control Association’s annual conference.

Bord Bia hosts an Ireland stand at this event, showcasing the current Irish newcomers each year and as a result of this exposure, many of the same successful Irish brands are now stocked in the high value states of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Michigan, Oregon, Ohio and North Carolina.

Meanwhile, Bord Bia’s Thinking House continues to research the sector for new opportunities as well as working with exporters on brand design to target specific markets and categories.

The Future of Drinks (and whiskey) reports, which it commissioned, identified three key areas for Irish whiskey to focus on to ensure success — native personality, maturity matters and flavour complexity.

According to the International Wines and Spirits Record, Irish whiskey is also perceived as a trade-up from other whiskies in the market.

It cites the range of new product launches and brand line extensions as having helped to encourage greater exploration of the category.

Continued investment in new distilleries, trademarks changing hands and updates to packaging are all also contributing to the growth.

Exports of Irish drinks globally in 2016 achieved €1.4bn, up 4% on 2015. This is largely due to the performance of Irish whiskey, which has grown over 300% in the past decade.

In 2016, 8.3m (9L) cases were exported representing an increase of more than 9% on 2015, and it is projected to grow to 24m cases by 2030.

The number of distilleries has grown from in 2010 to 11 currently in production with five more in build-phase and a further 11 in varying stages of planning.

From just eight craft breweries in 2012, the category now numbers more than 90 brands, produced by 73 micro-breweries.

Ireland had just a single gin offering in 2011. There are now 23 premium gin brands in production or planning.

The premium gin market in the USA has grown from 2.1bn cases to 2.8bn cases since 2010, an increase of 33%. This trend, driven largely by the rising popularity of cocktail bars, has not escaped Irish producers.

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