According to Bord Bia, the total value of the category was just under €4bn for the year, driven by volumes increasing and new markets opening up.
Beef exports were valued at €2.5bn, up 1%, while strong price growth saw a 15% rise in the value of sheep exports to €315m.
It was less of a positive story for pig meat as “significant downward price pressure” saw the value of category exports decline by 6% to €666m in 2018, despite a 4% increase in production.
The value of poultry exports increased by 8% to €316m, reaching the sector’s highest ever production levels of 157,000 tonnes.
Meanwhile, the overall value of live animal exports declined by 8% in 2018 to €161m despite an increase in the number of animals exported. This was due to an increase in calf exports and a decline in higher value finished cattle.
Overall, the value of Irish food, drink and horticulture exports reached €12.1bn in 2018, down 4% from 2017.
The UK market remains the key market for Irish food and drink exports. It accounted for €4.5bn overall, an increase of 2% year-on-year.
Exports to other EU states exceeded €4bn for the second year running, up 1% on 2017’s value. Strong growth was seen in pig meat, poultry and dairy exports to the EU, with export values increasing to the Netherlands, Italy and Spain in particular.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed said: “Market and trade insights suggest that the global demand for Irish food and drink will remain positive in 2019, but of course the potential impact of Brexit is a very significant risk. In circumstances such as these, it is more important than ever that we redouble our efforts to extend our reach in the global marketplace, that we continue to strive for the highest quality and improve the marketability and quality of our produce. My department will continue to work closely with Bord Bia to ensure that Irish food retains its global reputation for the highest quality.”
Bord Bia CEO Tara McCarthy was upbeat the year ahead, notwithstanding the uncertainty despite the Brexit situation. “In both dairy and in animal protein the supply demand dynamic is positive for exporting nations like Ireland,” she said. “Demand will continue to outstrip supply and new consumers tend to be in countries with low dairy or animal protein self-sufficiency In line with Bord Bia’s Market Prioritisation work, growth in dairy, meats and seafood in particular will come to a great extent from emerging economies in Asia and elsewhere.”