Bord Bia is targeting a range of markets for Ireland's €2.5 billion prepared consumer foods market as the pandemic and Brexit combined to deliver a hammer blow to the sector in the new year.

The state agency with responsibility for promoting Irish food, together with over 50 prepared consumer food companies, will host over 500 virtual trade meetings this week with buyers from key export markets including the United Arab Emirates, US and Europe.  

Producers in the sector supply some of the world's largest foodservice outlets, major grocery retailers across Europe and some of the biggest global restaurant chains.

Total sector exports across all markets were down by 18%, or €37.5m, in the month of January alone.

The UK accounts for 70% of total exports in the PCF sector, which includes meal solutions, confectionary, non-alcoholic beverages, ingredients and value-added meat, seafood, and horticulture.

Exports to that market were down almost a fifth, or €28m, in January as the Brexit transition period ended and the new trade regime came into partial effect.

Overall, it was the biggest decrease observed since the onset of the pandemic and highlighted the impact of the prolonged closure of the foodservice channel in many global markets, together with the impact of Brexit.

"After what has been a challenging and disruptive year for the food industry around the world, we know that many supply chains need to adapt," Tara McCarthy, CEO of Bord Bia said. 

"This, coupled with the fact that all of the major in-person food and beverage trade fairs in Europe and the US have been cancelled for the past 12 months, means that global customers are seeking out new ways to identify new suppliers and product innovations."

Bord Bia's 'Prepared Consumer Foods Accelerate 2021' programme is a year-long initiative to support client companies in the sector to boost growth through diversification.

Meanwhile, a separate report on the drinks industry found that the value of beer exports declined by 17% in 2020, from €305m to €254m.

The Irish Beer Market Report 2020, compiled on behalf of Drinks Ireland, showed that production levels dropped by almost 14% in the year.