China now our second biggest dairy market, Bord Bia reveals
China is now the second biggest market for Irish dairy and demand for baby formula is helping buck a slowdown in the Asian giant.
Sales of the high-end Irish dairy powders, used in infant formula, recorded growth rates of almost 40pc last year.
The figures from Bord Bia show that total Irish food and drink exports increased by 3pc to top €10.8bn for the first time last year, with the surge in new Irish whiskey distilleries contributing to a 10pc rise in drink exports. Beef sales were up 6pc and seafood up 4pc.
China is now Ireland's fifth largest market overall after 16pc growth in sales last year and it is the second most important market for dairy and pork.
Ornua, formerly known as the Irish Dairy Board, yesterday announced its acquisition of a Shanghai-based dairy manufacturer as its global dairy market growth continues.
The firm acquired Ambrosia Dairy, its first manufacturing base in China.
Fears about a China slowdown have spooked world markets in recent weeks, but despite volatile markets, dairy exports rose 4pc to €3.24bn helped by a 25pc surge in exports of nutrition powders, mainly baby formulas.
Infant formula now accounts for 35pc of the total dairy trade, valued at €1.15bn.
Aidan Cotter, chief executive of Bord Bia, said the Irish dairy sector has been targeting the "upper end" of the Chinese consumer market for baby formula powders, with growth of 40pc recorded last year in the face of slower international demand.
"Given that it is a branded product targeting the most sensitive customer segment, that is probably going to be last to feel the ill winds of recession. I think it is holding up and growing," he said, with Ireland commanding around 10pc of the baby formula powder market in China.
"I think we could see continued double-digit growth but not at that pace," he said of the prospects for 2016.
The significant surge in milk following the removal of quotas, with production up 11pc or 600 million litres in the first 10 months of the year, helped to offset the slower international demand for dairy, with wholesale prices down by up to 30pc for certain products.
Bord Bia plans to open two new international offices in Singapore to target Asia, and in Warsaw to concentrate on exports into Eastern Europe, with a new 'Insight Centre' also being established in Dublin to help companies brand products.
Mr Cotter pointed out exports grew by €355m in a year that saw global food commodity prices decline by around 19pc, with the Russian market effectively closed to EU food exports and consumer sentiment sluggish across the Eurozone.
Irish exports were boosted as the euro weakened by 16pc against the US dollar and 10pc against sterling last year.
The US firmed up its position as our second largest export market after the UK, with exports growing by 40pc to €755m, buoyed by dairy and whiskey exports.
Exports to the Middle East were up 12pc with Russia and Africa lagging behind.
Mr Cotter warned it would be a "significant issue" if the UK voted to leave the EU because 41pc of Irish food and drink exports are destined for our nearest neighbour.
Ireland exports €4bn of food and drink to the UK and imports €3bn.