Ireland increased its exports of food and drink by 11% last year to a total of €7.9bn (£6.6bn), according to the Irish food board, Bord Bia.

Just over 40% of the country’s total food and drink exports were destined for the UK and 34% to continental Europe.

All major categories recorded an increase in exports relative to 2009, although the biggest growth was for dairy products – sales of which were up 17%, or more than €300m (£250m).

Meat and livestock exports were almost €200m higher than the previous year, while beverage and prepared food exports recorded growth of €130m and €100m respectively.

“The strength of the industry’s export performance is all the more commendable for the fact that it has been achieved in what remains a highly competitive marketing environment” said Dan Browne, chairman of Bord Bia.

Reduced exchange rate pressures and improved relative competitiveness helped boost exports, along with a more stable consumer environment and rising global prices for most agricultural commodities.

The organisation was optimistic about prospects for Irish food and drink exports this year, which would be helped by rising demand for commodities and relatively tight supply for a number of key products.

“The challenge for the Irish food and drink industry is to maintain its current momentum, particularly in the areas of cost competitiveness, innovation and marketing,” Bord Bia chief executive Aidan Cotter said.

Last summer, the Irish Department for Agriculture published ambitious plans to increase the size of its agri-food industry over the next decade.

Among 200 recommendations in the Food Harvest 2020 report was a target to grow Irish food exports by 42% from €7bn to €12bn (£10bn) by 2020 by building on Ireland’s image of “green” pasture-based production systems, combined with investment in innovation, skills and competitiveness.