Cork drinks businesses urge business to adopt evidence based policies and support for vital sector

April 22, 2024

Local drinks manufacturers in Cork believe that policymakers should recognise their vital contribution to the local economy and ensure evidence-based alcohol-related policies which recognise that Ireland's attitude to drinking has changed dramatically in the last twenty years.

The call will come at the Cork presentation of Pride of Place - Policies for growth of the Irish drinks industry 2025-2030 this evening. Drinks Ireland, the Ibec group that represents the sector, and their Cork-based members, will outline policies they believe the next Government should adopt to underpin positive trends across several areas including the continued fostering of moderate consumption, growth in exports, further improved sustainability and balanced regional development.

Some of the key proposals in the report are:

  • Recognition that alcohol consumption has fallen by 30% in the last twenty years and the implementation of evidence-based policies that reflect the reality of Ireland’s changing relationship with alcohol, not out-dated stereotypes.
  • The promotion of education and awareness amongst consumers, not restrictive regulation that impacts upon the vast majority of moderate consumers.
  • The adoption of a proper policy of engagement with the industry, across all Departments whose policies influence our business.
  • Ensuring a practical regulatory environment that responds to consumer choice and nurtures the growth in the zero-alcohol alternative sector through responsible promotion and advertising.
  • Regarding the raw materials we purchase from farms, we want to see support for the recommendations of the Food Vision 2030 Tillage Group to grow our tillage sector.
  • Our drinks exports - whiskey, Irish cream, gin, beer, and cider- account for €1.8 billion in export earnings. We have seen phenomenal growth over the last decade, and we have strong ambitions for the future, but we do operate in a very competitive global marketplace. There are strong economic headwinds - we need to strengthen supports for export promotion via our state agencies.
  • We are extremely proud of our three Geographic Indications – our GIs - for Irish Whiskey, Irish Cream and Poitín and we need continued focus on the protection of those GIs in international markets.
  • Members are making significant strides on climate transition but there is a need for greater levels of grant support for sustainability investments in distilling and brewing.
  • We have some great visitor experience offerings and would like to see the promotion of the distillery and brewery experience as part of a bespoke Food and Drink tourism strategy.
  • There should be an alignment of excise duty rates on drinks products with European averages, thus supporting business in the wider experience economy.

The Irish drinks sector is a powerhouse of agri-food exports and a driving force of economic activity throughout the country. Overall, the industry generated €1.8 billion in exports in 2023 and exported to 120 markets globally. The distillery and brewery visitor experience centres attract close to 2.4 million domestic and foreign visitors and are at the heart of the experience economy.

In Cork, the experience economy subsectors account for about 8.9% of all active enterprise. Almost 10,000 people nationally are directly employed by the industry and a further 176,000 hospitality and off-license jobs are supported by the sector. Many of these jobs are outside the large cities and are a significant source of employment for young people.

There are significant pressures on this sector. The trend of public house closures is reflected in every county across Ireland, with rural areas most significantly impacted. Cork alone suffered a 29.9% decrease in the number of pubs between 2005 and 2022. Public houses form a significant piece of Ireland’s cultural and social fabrics, hosting an extensive network of services used by both visitors and locals and providing support for community cohesion. Creating an environment for commercial sustainability is central to preserving pubs in rural Ireland and this cannot happen without considered support from Government.

Furthermore, the industry purchases 300,000 tonnes of grain annually, use about 50,000 tonnes of apples in cider production, and use cream produced from 300 million litres of milk, supporting farming families across the island.

Cork is a key local region for this national success story. Drinks Ireland has a broad and varied membership throughout the county that include both large and small producers across a range of categories. These members: Irish Distillers / Pernod Ricard, Heineken, Molson Coors (Franciscan Well), Barry & Fitzwilliam, Clonakilty Distillery, West Cork Distillers, Stonewell Cider, Killahora Orchards (Cider), and Kinsale Spirits. These companies generate thousands of jobs in the brewing, distilling and linked industries, with many hundreds more working in the visitor experience and tour sector.

The proposals come as findings from the latest Health Research Board report show the positive trends in Irish drinking habits. There is a clear consumer trend towards greater moderation. That report is in line with other recent findings that overwhelmingly show a decrease in overall consumption, which pre-dated the introduction of the Public Health Alcohol Act. Ireland's average alcohol consumption now stands below that of the United Kingdom and most European countries, including Spain, France and Germany. Spearheaded by 18–25-year-olds, but evident across all age groups, we are consistently showing that we are taking control of our own habits and evolving in the way we enjoy a drink. Also notable is a move towards zero-alcohol products, which have seen exponential growth in Ireland, and offer choice that supports moderation.

Speaking at the presentation of Pride of Place, Drinks Ireland Director Cormac Healy said:

“As an industry, we are incredibly proud to support Cork. From the local communities across the county, both urban and rural, who benefit from job creation to the support we give to local farmers, whose grain, milk and apples we buy. The county hosts some of Ireland’s most well-known and important brands, whose exports have helped put Irish excellence on the map.

This publication reflects the fact that Ireland is evolving and maturing in the way we enjoy a drink. Consumers are taking charge of their own habits, and we can see this in the consistent rise of both zero-alcohol alternative products and the leaning towards premium offerings.

Despite this, the policies we are seeing from Government still rely on out-dated stereotypes, playing into an agenda of vested interests and penalising the vast majority of those who drink responsibly.

The policies spelled out in this report are practical, balanced and considered and will support, in turn, a critical Irish industry.”

Denis O’Flynn of Clonakilty Distillery said,

“Clonakilty Distillery is proud to be at the heart of our community, employing 35 people in the rural economy. I know our story of entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to craftmanship is one of many throughout this county.

The story of the Irish Drinks Industry is one of success. People both at home and across the world have come to appreciate our products for their authenticity and excellence. We have strong ambition for growth, despite some challenging economic headwinds at present.

We cannot become complacent in this success. We need to have a sound, evidence-based policy environment that backs this important economic sector.

Like our fellow members, we are proud of our heritage and are approaching the future with optimism and confidence. With the right governmental support and policies, we can deliver on our ambition for growth, that will continue to deliver for the local and national economy.”

Read Business Cork article here

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For further information contact:

Sabrina D’Angelo, Q4 Public Relations/ sabrina@q4pr.ie / 086 032 3397