Irish Whiskey brands eye Chinese market growth in EU trade mission

The Irish Whiskey Association joins a delegation of 72 businesses on an EU Trade Mission to China focusing on promoting geographical indication (GI) food and drink products

International spirits represent around 2% of total alcohol consumed in China today which is worth over €2.5 billion (Pictured: IWA director Eoin O Cathain in China)

The Irish Whiskey Association is among 72 business delegates visiting China currently to promote their brands and explore export opportunities, on the invitation of an EU DG (European Union Directorates-General) Agri Trade Mission. 

The trade mission is focusing on EU food and drink products recognised as a geographical indication (GI), which is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. Irish whiskey is one of 96 EU GIs that currently enjoy this status in the Chinese market.

According to Bord Bia’s Export Performance & Prospects Index, the value of Irish whiskey exports to China has increased by 247% in the past five years, representing a total monetary value of €4,029,293 in 2023.

For the trade mission, the Irish Whiskey Association is meeting with importers, distributors, marketeers and on-trade businesses to promote the Irish whiskey category, and is learning more about the Chinese market with international spirits companies based there.

Although international spirits represent only around 2% of total alcohol consumed in China today (worth more than €2.5 billion), this market share is expected to grow quickly in years to come. Whiskey is the fastest growing category among international spirits, which bodes well for Irish whiskey in this rapidly-developing market.

The trade mission, led by the European Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski of Poland, has visited Shanghai for a series of meetings with industry and Chinese government representatives, with the director of the Irish Whiskey Association Eoin Ó Catháin representing the whiskey sector.

Irish Whiskey Association representatives are in the Chinese capital Beijing today, as part of a politically focused delegation, organised by spiritsEUROPE, an EU trade association for the spirits sector. As part of its politically focused activities, the Association will present on the value of intellectual property rights and the GI system at a working group on wines and spirits.

A number of Irish whiskeys, including Redbreast Irish Whiskey, Teeling Whiskey and Dingle Distillery, were selected for display and tasting in an EU pavilion at the Anuga Select China trade fair, a leading international food and beverage exhibition held in Shenzhen in southern China during the trade mission. The European Commission sponsored the placement of EU agri-food GIs at the trade fair, and Irish whiskey had a particular spotlight. 

Eoin Ó Catháin, director, Irish Whiskey Association, said: “We have seen unprecedented growth over the past five years in China, but the potential of this market is monumental. The Irish Whiskey Association is honoured to be among the invitees to participate in this mission – and for Irish whiskey to be among the few EU GIs to enjoy full recognition and protection here. 

“The work of the Association is mirrored by a number of Irish whiskey brands – large and small – who have committed considerable resources and investment in this market. It is important for the vitality of the sector that this investment pays dividends in the years to come. We are delighted to have the support of government departments and Bord Bia, who have a strong presence here, in realising this ambition.”

Elliot Hughes, managing director, Dingle Distillery, said: “China has been a developing market for Dingle for the last two years, however we anticipate it becoming a major market for us, alongside the USA and the EU, in a relatively short period of time. The EU and China along with the USA are the world’s three largest trading partners, and China is the third largest agri-food export market for EU-27, after the US and UK.”

Sign Up for Drinks Industry Ireland

Get a free weekly update on Drinks Industry trade news, direct to your inbox. Sign up now, it's free