Food and drink at the heart of economic strategy

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster cooks up some bacon with Richard McKee of the Ulster Pork & Bacon Forum, which is the body representing the pork industry in Northern Ireland.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has pledged to ensure the food and drink sector remains at the heart of Northern Ireland’s economic growth strategy.

Speaking at the Ulster Bank lunch, at the annual Balmoral Show today, the Minister said: “Food and drink has become a high-value and resilient sector which is demonstrating world-class capabilities in terms of production, hygiene and new product development, as well as a growing global reach.”

Overall, food and drink processing is a £3billion industry that generates exports in excess of £750million, representing 19% of our total manufacturing sales.

The Minister continued: “The industry’s hugely impressive achievements in key markets such as Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland are bringing benefits to the community. It is sustaining employment and creating new and rewarding job opportunities, especially for young graduates, in added-value activities such as new product development, R&D, international sales and marketing, design, hygiene and engineering.

“The industry also provides tangible benefits to a broad range of suppliers in transport, packaging, marketing, construction, technical support and retailing."

The Minister told the invited audience of senior figures in business and farming that she expected the food and drink sector to become an even stronger lynchpin of the local economy in the years ahead.

Arlene Foster said: “The importance of the food and drink sector will strengthen as we face the looming challenges of food security, sustainability and the effects of climate change.

“My Department and Invest Northern Ireland are working closely with the industry on measures to help improve its performance, especially in areas such as productivity, external sales, marketing, innovation, supply chain development, overall capability, and energy and waste.

“By increasing premium, natural food production we can propel our economy in to a new era. In a world facing shortage and decline in food production, our own landscape and the skills of our people have the potential to deliver a virtual goldmine of future prosperity.”

Henry Elvin, Head of Business Banking at Ulster Bank, added: “We are very upbeat about the prospects for Northern Ireland’s food processing industry, which generates export sales of more than £750million each year and is one of the most innovative areas of our economy. It is an extremely important sector for Ulster Bank, and many of Northern Ireland’s most successful food companies are currently Ulster Bank clients.

“We have also made £300million available to support local SME businesses this year, and we anticipate that a significant proportion of this will go to support food firms. This is one of the sectors on which we are placing a very high priority, given its importance to the economy and the potential for growth in the years ahead.”