Turnover generated by NI agri-food processors increased by 9.5% in 2021 to hit £5.95bn, with a further 8% increase to £6.43bn projected for 2022, the latest NI Food and Drink processing report published by DAERA shows.

The big increases recorded in 2021 were primarily in the beef and sheep sectors, as well as poultry and milk and milk products, driven on by increased feed and farmgate prices which had to be recovered from the market in higher sales revenues.

Beef and sheep processing is the largest sector in NI, accounting for £1.7bn of turnover, followed by milk at £1.28bn. Together they make up half of all food and drink sales.

Poultrymeat is third at £829m, with pigmeat processing at £448.5m, just behind bakeries and drinks manufacturers.

There are just over 25,000 people employed in NI food and drink processing, and it remains the largest contributor to overall NI manufacturing sales, accounting for 38.5% of all manufacturing output in 2021, down slightly on the previous year.


Nearly half (47.4%) of all NI food and drink sales go to Britain, with the home market in NI taking 24.2% and the Republic of Ireland accounting for 15.6%.

However, some sectors are more reliant on Britain than others.

In beef and sheep processing, Britain takes 66.8% of sales, while in the egg sector, it accounts for 64.2% of sales.

In milk and milk products, only 22% of sales are to Britain (down from 27% in 2020), with a fairly even split across the home market, the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU.

It should be noted that around one third of NI milk is processed south of the Irish border, so is not captured in the NI data.


The DAERA publication also includes data related to net profit before tax across the various agri-food sectors.

In 2021, food and drink processors made total net profits of £236.1m, with the highest margins (as a percentage of sales) made by the drinks sector at 12.1%.

The average across all companies was 4%, with both beef and sheep, as well as poultry processors at 2.7% and milk processors at only 1.6%.

The DAERA report analyses data from 322 businesses with a turnover of at least £250,000. Of these, twenty-six companies have annual turnover above £50m.

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