Bord Bia has reported a sixth consecutive year of export growth for the country's food and drinks industry.

Export values were up by over 3% to exceed €10.8 billion in 2015 - a record level.

Improved returns for beef, seafood and beverages helped to offset a weakening in global dairy prices.

Nonetheless, dairy exports grew by 4% due to the strong growth in the volume of specialist nutrition powders, such as baby formula, which increased by 25% overall and by 40% in the Chinese market alone.

Bord Bia said that the best performing category in terms of exports growth was the beverage sector, where values were up by over 10%. 

This was largely driven by sustained growth in exports of Irish whiskey, which recorded export growth of 18%.

Beef and seafood exports increased by 6% and 4% respectively.

The US consolidated its position as the country's second largest market after the UK, with exports growing by 40% to an estimated €755m.

Exports to China grew by 16%, maintaining its position as our fifth most important market and our second largest for dairy and pork.  

Exports to the Middle East grew by 12%, but exports to Russia and to the African region were weaker last year.

"Irish food exporters registered record growth, increasing exports by some €355m in a period when global food commodity prices declined by approximately 19%, the Russian market was effectively closed to EU food exports, and consumer sentiment remained sluggish across the euro zone," commented Bord Bia's chief executive Aidan Cotter. 

"This year will present further opportunities for growth in most sectors notwithstanding challenges from continued global dairy price pressures through the early months of 2016," he added.