The value of mergers and acquisitions in the Irish food and beverage sector rose by 32% to a total of €726m last year, a new report shows.

The report, from Grant Thornton, said that US companies are increasingly interested in investing in high quality Irish food and drink companies with strong brands and authentic products.

US acquisitions of Irish businesses last year included Hain Celestial's €10m deal for Cork based Cully & Sully, while whiskey giant Beam completed its purchase of Cooley Distillery in January 2012.

Irish firms were also major investors in the US last year, with Kerry Group, Glanbia, Greencore and C&C all announcing major deals. The report noted that C&C's €235m acquisition of the Vermont Hard Cider company was the biggest Irish deal in the US last year.

Grant Thornton also said that Asia is becoming a growing market for Irish food products, with exports up 25% on last year. ''Cash-rich Asian companies are potential investors in Irish food businesses whose operations may be thriving, but where balance sheets are stretched by ill-judged property investments made in the boom,'' commented Ciara Jackson, head of food at Grant Thornton.

Today's report says that Irish food companies must continue to invest in ensuring a robust and safe supply chain in order to protect the reputation of an industry that has contributed billions in exports last year.

Ms Jackson said the recent horse meat controversy is a cause of concern, adding that the reputation of Irish produce has its foundation in high standards of regulation and food safety, and the country's natural green environment.

''It is vital that the industry collaborates to create a resilient supply chain that can minimise costs whilst ensuring Irish produce maintains its international standing,'' she added.