Ornua, the country's biggest exporter of dairy products and maker of Kerrygold, has reported a 69% increase in operating profit for last year to €83.1m.

Group turnover for the year rose by 0.9% to reach €2.3 billion.

Ornua said this performance was achieved against the backdrop of a complex trading environment dominated by Covid-19, market volatility, and the macro-economic challenges of Brexit and "punitive" US tariffs.

The dairy company exports to 110 countries and sold 10 million packets of Kerrygold butter and cheese every week last year - an increase of 13%.

But it noted that the strong financial performance of 2020 was unlikely to be repeated as the retail and foodservice global landscape re-adjusts to the re-opening of economies post-pandemic.

Ornua CEO John Jordan said there was a dramatic shift in consumer buying behaviour.

"When you think of the US which is one of our biggest markets, pre-Covid food consumption was 50% at home and 50% out of home and Covid changed all of that because of lockdowns.

Ornua saw a huge surge in retail demand and a collapse in food service.

"We saw a lot more at home eating, a lot more baking. People moved to brands they can trust and thankfully Kerrygold was in many of those sandwiches, many of those meals and many of those recipes," he told business on Morning Ireland.

Ornua said it bought over 366,000MT of Irish dairy products last year at a value of more than €1 billion, reaffirming its position as the largest buyer of Irish dairy products globally.

"We are owned by the manufacturing co-ops in Ireland who are in turn owned by 14,000 Irish dairy farming families. We are adamant that they produce some of the best quality milk in the world," John Jordan said.

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It also paid member co-ops an additional €68.7m, up 54%, in premiums and bonuses through the Ornua Value Payment.

"We made that commitment very early in the pandemic to give some security and assurance to people," Mr Jordan said.

"We believe we paid very strong prices, and importantly we kept markets and supply chains open throughout the world which was of benefit to the entire Irish dairy industry," he added.

Ornua said its branded and own label portfolio benefited from the change in consumer behaviour due to Covid-19 last year, which saw people all over the world gravitate towards brands they trust.

Kerrygold is now the second biggest butter brand in the US. It also continues to be the fastest selling brand on supermarket shelves in Germany, with brand strength supporting the launch of additional cheddar products in 2020.

In the UK, Pilgrims Choice outperformed the cheddar category with 29% growth year-on-year, securing its position as the second biggest cheddar brand in the UK market.

Ornua Ingredients also saw positive growth despite being particularly exposed to the impact of large scale and prolonged restaurant closures globally.

During the year, Ornua Ingredients North America expanded its facility in Wisconsin, which resulted in 30% growth capacity, while Ornua Ingredients Europe implemented a business transformation project in two of its UK manufacturing facilities.

Mr Jordan said the strong fundamentals of the business - great people and great products - came to the fore last year.

He said this allowed Ornua to maximise the opportunity presented with the change in consumer behaviour, doubling down on driving profitable value growth against the backdrop of the global pandemic.

"Looking ahead, we are cautiously optimistic about the gradual re-opening of economies as the global vaccine rollout gathers pace; we have clarity on Brexit, and we welcome strong signals from the US on improved US/EU trade relations," Mr Jordan said.

"This, coupled with Ornua's clear and ambitious new five-year strategy focused on driving profitable growth in priority global markets, will ensure we continue to deliver value for the 14,000 Irish farming families we represent," he added.