The Beef, Sheep, Pigmeat and Poultry sectors account for over 50% of Ireland’s Gross Agricultural Output (GAO). The value of meat and livestock exports grew by 2% in 2015 to over €3.7bn, equating to over 32% of total food and drink exports.

Beef and Cattle

There are 6.42m cattle in Ireland, according to the CSO 2015 Livestock survey, representing a 3% increase on levels in the previous year. Cattle breeds include Friesian, Limousin, Simmental, Angus, Hereford and Charolais.

Irish beef production is predominantly a grass based system, with around 564,000 tonnes produced in 2015. Of this an estimated 510,000 tonnes of beef was exported, while 178,000 cattle were exported live from Ireland. The UK is the largest market for beef exports, accounting for 54% of total exports. The value of beef exports grew by 6% in 2015 totalling €2.41bn.

Around 87,000 tonnes of beef was consumed in RoI in 2015, equating to approximately 18.8 kg per capita, a slight reduction on the previous year. Minced beef is the most popular beef product at retail level making up 45% of beef retail sales, followed by steaks at 22%. Burger sales have risen in the last year to reach 4% of sales.

Pigs and Pigmeat

According to the CSO survey, there were 1.47m pigs in Ireland in 2015, a 2% decrease compared with the previous year, largely due to a decrease in the number of breeding pigs. This indicates some stabilisation in the pig herd following declines in the previous two years. The average size of pig herd stands at 776 pigs which is a double digit increase on 2014 levels. The county with the largest proportion of pig population continues to be Cork followed by Cavan and Tipperary.

Net production in 2015 was 276,000 tonnes, of which 229,000 tonnes was exported, valued at €590m. The UK is the most important export market accounting for 40% of this figure and has increased by 6% in value in the last year, while 36% of output is destined for international markets.

Retail sales of pork eased slightly in 2015 in the RoI with pork chops and joints seeing the largest decline. Bacon sales comprise 38% of total retail pigmeat sales while pork is the second largest at 23%. Sliced cooked meats (20%) showed the largest increase with a rise of almost 5% while sales of sausages (19%) increased by 2%.

Sheep and Sheepmeat

The Irish sheep flock totals 3.3m head, a figure which held steady in 2015, following a decline in previous years. According to the national sheep census, more than one third of total sheep numbers are concentrated in the West and North West of the country with the largest number of flocks and sheep in county Donegal. The average flock size is around 107 sheep.

Net production totalled around 58,000 tonnes in 2015 over 1% ahead of the previous year and 22% ahead of net production in 2010. Around 90% of production is from export plants while 10% comes from local abbatoirs. Sheepmeat exports increased by around 3% in 2015 to reach a value of €230m. The UK and France continue to be the core markets for Irish sheepmeat accounting for 60% of total export volumes. Key growth markets include Germany, Belgium and Sweden; Ireland supplies almost 30% of Sweden’s lamb imports.

Lamb consumption in the RoI market decreased by 2% in 2015 which equates to around 3.4kg per capita. Lamb chops account for the largest share of sales in the retail channel at 34%, with joints taking 31% and lamb mince accounting for 18%. Compared to previous years, there has been a decline in sales for lamb joints with a recovery in consumption of lamb mince and stewing meat.


Around 80 million birds were processed in 2015. In tonnage terms, this represents 123,000 tonnes of poultry output, a rise of 6% on the previous year. Broilers account for over 80% of production, followed by turkeys, ducks and hens.

Irish exports increased by 3% to 109,000 tonnes in 2015 valued at €320m. Some 84% of this is destined for the UK market. While direct sales into international markets in Africa and Asia expanded in 2015, a large proportion of product shipped to the UK is also redirected to international markets.

Consumer demand for poultry products is growing, and retail sales of fresh and chilled poultry in RoI increased by 5% to reach 40,000 tonnes in 2015. Stability in penetration along with increased volume per trip is driving this growth. The majority of retail poultry sales comprise whole chickens, followed by chicken fillets and chicken wings/legs. The remainder is made up of valued added chicken, turkey and duck. The EU consumption per capita is 22kg, an increase of 2% compared with 2014.

Retail Meat Sales by Meat Type, 2015
Source: Kantar World Panel

Key Consumer Trends – Meat Category

Consumer trends are changing with shoppers becoming more interested in where their meat comes from. Consumers are also looking for convenience, new flavours and formats borrowed from the foodservice channel eg smoked flavours and BBQ kits. Naturalness claims such as organic are growing, and ethical farming and production is also playing an increasing important role in NPD. Consumers are influenced by meats telling their story about origin, artisan attributes or inspiration and showing authenticity in flavours and ingredients. There is also increased interest in meat based snacks that are high in protein.


For further information, Bord Bia’s Meat and Livestock Review for 2015/2016 can be found here.