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Ireland lockdowns longest in Europe for bars

A new report by Drinks Ireland revealed that coronavirus lockdowns in the country were ‘by far the longest’ in Europe for the on-trade, contributing to a 6% decline in alcohol consumption last year.

Dublin, Ireland
Ireland’s bar and restaurants are currently limited to table service only

According to Drinks Ireland’s 2020/2021 Annual Review, the decline was due to the closure of the on-trade and travel retail channels over a number of periods. Globally, alcohol consumption fell by 6% in 2020.

Earlier this month, Ireland closed its nightclubs and implemented new Covid-19 measures for hospitality operations.

Drinks Ireland said it is vital that the hospitality sector remains open in 2022, with any restrictions eased as soon as possible.

Sales of spirits in Ireland, the country’s third favourite category of alcoholic drink, fell by 4.8% to 2.3m nine-litre cases in 2020. Beer remained the country’s top alcoholic beverage, however sales fell by 17% last year.

Pat Rigney, Drinks Ireland chair, and managing director and founder of The Shed Distillery, said: “Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, the drinks industry was going from strength to strength. In 2019, it generated exports to over 140 markets, worth €1.45 billion [US$1.64bn], and contributed €2.6 billion [US$2.9bn] in VAT and excise payments to the exchequer.

“Our industry is particularly important to the rural economy, with the hospitality sector a presence in every town and village, and many breweries and distilleries located outside the big cities. There is no doubt that the sector has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic.

“While the industry rallied to support the national effort in the fight against Covid-19, our members continued to be significantly impacted across production, export, and sales.”

He added: “The trends we expect to continue in 2022 include the ongoing shift to quality over quantity by consumers, a growth in the ready-to-drink (RTD) category and the no- and low-alcohol category, the continued popularity of craft cider and beer, as well as Irish gin and Irish whiskey from producers around the country.”

Irish spirits exports

According to the Irish Spirits Market Report 2022 released by Drinks Ireland | Spirits in September, the value of Irish spirits exports fell by 15.97% to €990 million (US$1.15bn) last year, down from €1.18bn (US$1.37bn) in 2019.

Irish cream liqueurs, the seventh most-consumed spirit in 2020, rose by 26.5%, while Scotch increased by 9.9%. The report noted that the two categories benefited from a sales boost in the off-trade, while vodka (down 10.2%) and Tequila (down 30.4%) dropped by double digits as a result of their reliance on the on-trade.

Imports of US whiskey and Bourbon into Ireland fell for the third year running, the Annual Review noted, plummeting by 39.5% on the previous year. This is mostly due to the EU’s 25% retaliatory tariff after the US imposed duties as part of the European steel and aluminium dispute.

Ireland has the third highest level of excise on spirits in the European Union, behind Sweden and Finland. Spirits contributed €373.3m (US$423m) or just over 31% to the excise duty collected by the Irish state, the report noted.

Over the last two years, the Irish Whiskey Association (IWA) has secured legal recognition and protection for the category in Belarus, Mozambique and Malaysia, with more applications pending.

In addition, the IWA is in talks with the EU Commission, and Irish and UK governments to ensure the inclusion of the Irish whiskey geographical indication (GI) in trade deals with Vietnam, Armenia and in the UK continuity agreement.

William Lavelle, head of the IWA, added: “Despite the pandemic, 11.4 million cases of Irish whiskey were sold globally in 2020, with sales holding up or growing in many major markets. We can realistically target full recovery in 2021.”

The Irish whiskey category is set for some major changes to its Technical File, spearheaded by the IWA. Last month, The Spirits Business explored what the changes could mean for the category.

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