A new generation of Irish craft gins, commencing in 2012 with Dingle Gin, have grown rapidly to include 22 small producers and a good regional spread (see map). Seen initially as a source of revenue during the maturation period for Irish Whiskey, these Irish gins have built a reputation for quality based on skills, quality of water supply, range of botanicals (many wild) and individual marketing stories. They are in tune with increased demand for premium products. The near doubling of the global market for premium gin from 3.3m 9L cases in 2010 to over 5m 9L cases in 2015 and increased consumption in Ireland to over 17.5k cases in 2016 has opened up a range of sales opportunities for premium products that will stand out as authentic.
As well as building a domestic profile, producers are seeking distributors in export markets including the USA, Germany and Canada, taking part in the Bord Bia Drinks Trade Fair programme and embassy showcases and signing up to Origin Green. A number of companies have accessed other Bord Bia programmes including The Thinking House and six new Irish gin products were launched at Bloom 2017. Local Enterprise Offices have also been supportive
The Shed Distillery of P.J. Rigney is the first distillery in Connacht in over 101 years. A handcraft distillery located in Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim, The Shed uses copper stills fired by steam for distillation of Irish Whiskey and Irish craft gin and is also developing other spirit drinks. It employs 10 people, which is expected to rise to 25 with the opening of a Visitor Centre, which will bring the visitor through the production process and features a cafe, a botanical glasshouse, bar and herb garden.
Production involves slow-distillation by hand in a copper pot still fired by steam; vapour distillation of citrus fruits with a selection of oriental botanicals including gunpowder tea and local Drumshanbo meadowsweet. The company experimented in detail on the mix and infusion of botanicals in the distillation process to create unique but consistently appealing flavours. To create a balance of flavours 8 botanicals are distilled and 4 botanicals vapour infused. There is a strong hand crafted element at all stages of production.
The company worked with the Bord Bia Thinking House in a structured process to develop The Shed and The Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin concepts and brand. This involved detailed groundwork research of market demand and consumer interest, working with consumers in a co-creation mode in building the brand idea to create a unique and compelling story, identifying the importance of the experience of P.J. Rigney, the founder, then working with a design company to translate the concepts and insights into the visual brand, followed by a successful launch of The Shed Distillery and the Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin brand.
Irish Whiskey exports grew to €500 million in 2016. Ireland is now the 4th largest world exporter of whiskey and Irish Whiskey is the fastest growing whiskey category in USA. Exports are likely to reach 24 million cases by 2030 as companies plan investments of €1billion over ten years. Larger, mainly multinational players, want an Irish Whiskey in their portfolio and a new generation of smaller independents seek to realise their ambition. All are focused on consumer demand for innovative premium products with a strong story.
Irish Whiskey is an all-island EU geographical indication (GI). A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the DAFM, the Revenue Commissioners and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland provides for controls on production, presentation and labelling. Close co-operation is in place with HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue Commissioners) who handle Northern Ireland controls. A list of Irish Whiskey premises verified in 2016, was published on the Department’s website in 2017. Work is underway to establish a list of verified Irish Whiskey brands which would assist companies in providing assurance to markets and customers that products are produced to the requirements of the Irish Whiskey Act, 1980, Regulation (EC) No 100/2008 and the technical file for Irish Whiskey.
The industry has significant tourist potential. In December 2016, the Irish Whiskey Tourism Strategy was launched recommending tourist centres and tourist trails. Regional launches are underway in 2017.
One of the new distilleries being constructed is in the stable yards of Slane Castle. The project is the result of a partnership between the Conyngham family, the owners of Slane Castle, and the family run US drinks group Brown-Forman, which owns the Jack Daniels brand. An investment of €47m by Brown-Forman commenced in 2015. It will be the first distillery the company has built outside the US.
With an emphasis on a high quality product, history and character the Slane Distillery will also include a Visitor’s Centre offering a memorable experience and understanding of the skill and craft involved. The distillery will have the capacity to produce more than 600,000 cases and will use barley grown on the Slane Castle estate. The Centre will see the creation of 25 permanent jobs when complete and is expected to contribute significantly to the local agri-food and tourism economy.
There are opportunities for the Prepared Consumer Foods (PCF) sector to expand its customer base through accessing new markets and continued innovative product development. The application of innovative solutions will allow the sector to capitalise on its growth potential and increase exports and its share of the domestic market.
Dawn Farms, one of Europe’s leading suppliers of cooked and fermented meat ingredients to international foodservice chains and food manufacturers recently announced an investment of over €25m at its Meat Science & Innovation Centre in Naas over the next five years. The investment will focus on enhancing the company’s R&D capabilities and will create 150 new jobs over the same period.
Developing new products to meet changing consumer tastes is at the heart of its growth story and the Meat Science & Innovation Centre is the innovation hub to support their customers in over 40 markets worldwide. This investment will enhance their capacity to research trends, to Food Wise 2025.
Dawn Farms is an excellent example of a company with strong roots in Ireland that demonstrates global ambition when it comes to its export growth potential and is sending a very positive message to every Irish agri-food business, that it is possible to build an innovative and scalable company that can compete at the highest levels internationally.