Dairy and Ingredients

A key part of Ireland’s food heritage, now contributing to global dairy markets

Ireland has 18,500 family-owned dairy farms producing in the region of 5,400 billion litres of milk annually.  The dairy herd is predominantly Friesian/Holstein, bred to produce milk from grass.

Ireland’s temperate climate, combined with its annual rainfall, means its yearly grass production exceeds the European average by more than one-third, ensuring the continued availability of permanent pasture in Ireland.  Pasture-based milk production gives Irish milk a number of distinctive qualities and is also highly sustainable and environmentally friendly.   

Ireland’s dairy output is manufactured to produce a wide range of consumer products and dairy ingredients. Consumer dairy products include milk fat products e.g., butter, cheese, and dairy derived products such as yogurts and dairy-based drinks. Dairy ingredients include milk-fat derived ingredients, as well as milk protein, infant formula and other nutritional ingredients.  The key dairy processors in Ireland operate to rigorous quality and food safety standards.

Ireland is the 10th largest dairy export nation in the world, exporting 85% of all dairy outputs. In 2013, export values for Irish dairy product and ingredients exceeded €3 billion. The strongest performing product categories were butter, cheese, infant formula, milk and cream, WMP and whey.  Fat-filled milk powders, also accounted for 80% of growth in the prepared foods export category.

Infant nutrition

Ireland currently produces approximately 10% of the entire global exports of infant milk formula, which is a remarkable achievement for a small Atlantic island country situated at the edge of Europe. Three of the world’s biggest infant nutrition companies – Abbott, Wyeth and Danone – operate manufacturing facilities in Ireland. The provision of infant nutrition products requires a delicate balance between the need for a natural product, the strictest hygiene standards, and complex diet formulations. Significant ongoing investment is therefore an integral part of this complex industry to incorporate the latest nutritional, medical and hygienic developments. Ireland has committed significant resources to its continued development in these three important areas.

Dairy ingredients

Milk is a unique raw material, and there is particular emphasis, in Ireland’s dairy industry, on extracting milk-based bioactive ingredients with specific nutritional properties that are incorporated in functional foods. These are ingredients that have a specific physiological effect, with which manufacturers of branded formulated and convenient foods can make certain health statements.

Irish businesses and academia have carried out extensive research in this field to develop ingredients with health benefits that are scientifically substantiated.

With that challenge in mind, Food for Health Ireland (FHI) is the first industry-led food research consortium in Ireland, which researches and trials the functionality of components extracted from dairy products. Launched in 2008, FHI focuses on harnessing Ireland’s scientific talent and marketing capability through a targeted and industry-relevant programme to develop new functional food ingredients and products. 

Through an intelligent milk mining programme and an extensive bioassay screening platform, FHI searches for ingredients that promote infant development, help to control weight and related health issues, boost immunity or support healthy ageing.  FHI’s objective is to identify milk-derived food ingredients with potential health benefits – thus creating new intellectual capital and enabling the industry members to develop new products for sale globally. Furthermore, it aims to match customer needs with the best scientific research, and combine it with marketing capability.

Supported by Enterprise Ireland, FHI links the expertise of researchers at University College Cork, University College Dublin, NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth, DCU, Teagasc, Moorepark Food Research Centre, and University of Limerick with the industry partners Irish Dairy Board, Carbery Group, Dairygold Food Ingredients Ltd, Glanbia plc and Kerry Group plc.  New companies are welcome to join FHI at any time.


End of milk quotas

Dairy is the sector that presents the largest growth opportunity for the Irish food industry. In 2015, European-wide milk production quotas will be lifted.  The Irish Government’s Food Harvest 2020 report predicts that the removal of these quotas will see a 50% growth in Irish milk output in the five years post-2015. With milk quotas due to end in 2015 there is an even greater opportunity for firms to capitalise on Ireland’s strong reputation for quality and sustainable production.

The functional foods arena holds numerous possibilities for future growth, with the global functional foods market predicted to be worth $176 billion by 2013. Ireland’s existing reputation for quality food, and in particular dairy production, makes it an ideal candidate to lead the way in dairy-based functional food research. Enterprise Ireland predicts Ireland’s dairy industry has the potential to deliver €1 billion in value-added products for international