The achievements of Ireland's food and drink industry are evident throughout the world. Irish pork, beef and lamb feature on the very finest menus in restaurants, while its well-loved brands have their place on supermarket shelves internationally. Ingredients sourced from Ireland are found in many globally consumed products and are sold through leading foodservice outlets, retail chains and even the pharmaceutical and nutritional sectors. Irish seafood enjoys a healthy reputation and, in turn, healthy sales in export markets.
The international phenomenon of the Irish pub, spawned by the Irish drinks sector, has introduced many consumers to the unique taste of an Irish cream liqueur or a triple distilled Irish whiskey, and consumers from Europe to Asia and America seek out famous drinks brands. Customers of Irish meat, dairy, ingredients, drinks and consumer foods include the world's leading retailers and foodservice groups.
Ireland's fertile soil has encouraged a strong farming tradition. Predominantly a family business, there are approximately 139,900 family farms in Ireland, with the majority falling under the categories of specialist beef production, mixed grazing livestock and dairying. Eighty per cent of Ireland's farmland is grassland. The total land area of Ireland is 6.9 million hectares of which 4.5 million hectares is used for agriculture. (CSO, Census of Agriculture 2011).
This productive environment has allowed the practice of leaving animals on grass for almost all of the year, ensuring the highest levels of animal health and welfare, and the highest quality of end product as a result.
At processing level, the most comprehensive and up-to-date methods of quality control and safety are coupled with a highly progressive and innovative outlook and the technological capacity to deliver to today's demanding customers.
There is heavy investment dedicated to research and development and many food and drink companies have ties with Ireland's universities to further their research resources.
In 1994, the Government established Bord Bia – the Irish Food Board – to champion the success of the Irish food and drink industry. Bord Bia is charged with the promotion of Irish food and drink in domestic and overseas markets and, as an agency, it highlights Ireland's rich food resources, unspoiled landscape and valued skills base of its people. After 10 years of marketing Ireland's premium products, Ireland now exports to all countries in Europe and has extensive business in wider international markets, particularly North and South America, Africa and Asia. Despite its modest size, Ireland is the fourth largest exporter of food and drink in Europe and the industry accounts for over 7 per cent of Ireland's economic output, 11 per cent of Ireland's total exports and almost 9 per cent of total employment.
The success of Ireland's food export trade is founded on natural production methods, stringent food controls at farm and processing level and a committed customer service. Through innovation, state of the art technology and a passion for the industry, Ireland's major players are enjoying worldwide renown for their products and service.
Teagasc, the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority, is the national body providing research, training and advice for the agri-food industry in Ireland. The mix of tradition and a focus on the future has led to an industry with enormous scope and diversity. Leading international food companies, which produce a huge range of consumer foods, dairy products, meat products and specialist ingredients, are working alongside a thriving small business sector in which family-run operations produce unique specialist cheeses, preserves, charcuterie products and confectionary.
Enterprise Ireland partners with entrepreneurs, Irish businesses and the research and innovation communities to develop Irelands international trade, innovation, leadership and competitiveness. The ultimate objective is growth in exports, leading to increased employment and prosperity in Ireland.
Enterprise Ireland is also responsible for the inward investment in the food, beverage and natural resource sectors.
The agri-food and drink sector accounts for 7 per cent of Irelands economy-wide GVA, 11 per cent of Ireland's exports and 8.6 per cent of total employment (DAFF 2012). In 2012, the value of Irish food and drink exports amounted to approximately €9.01 billion (Bord Bia estimate).
The UK accounts for 42 per cent of total exports, over 31 per cent went to Continental EU markets, while the remaining 27 per cent went to international markets.