Food SMEs win first exports with Invest NI help

Two small food companies have been helped by Invest NI to win their first retail sales outside Northern Ireland.

Newtownabbey’s Golden Popcorn and Knotts Bakery in Newtownards gained their first external sales by taking part in ‘Meet the Buyer’ events organised by Invest NI. Golden Popcorn was introduced to David Sands Ltd, Scotland’s top independent supermarket chain, and Knotts to Donnybrook Fair, Dublin’s gourmet food retailer.

David Sands has since ordered pre-packed products from Golden Popcorn, Northern Ireland’s only manufacturer of the popular snack food.

The contract is the first to be won by Golden Popcorn from a retailer in Great Britain. The company has a substantial customer base in Northern Ireland, supplying Sainsbury, Tesco and Asda supermarkets with pre-packed popcorn.

The family run company also supplies virtually all Northern Ireland cinemas, many video/DVD shops, convenience stores and garage forecourts with popcorn bags. In addition, it supplies corn and ingredients for on-site production. The popcorn is also provided by the company to many cinemas in the Republic of Ireland.

Lucy McDowell, Golden Popcorn Managing Director, commenting on the order from David Sands Ltd, says: “A key element of our business growth strategy is to develop sales of our popcorn outside Northern Ireland. We want to build on the business that we now have with major multiples in Northern Ireland which have been impressed by the quality of our products and now list them in their local stores. Invest NI’s meet the buyer events enabled us to find an ideal partner in Scotland.

“Winning business from such a respected supermarket chain as David Sands Ltd, therefore, is an immensely important development for us. It shows that we have the type of products demanded by quality conscious retailers,” she adds.

Golden Popcorn was formed in 1996 to fill a gap in the Northern Ireland marketplace for an indigenous popcorn producer.

Donnybrook Fair in Dublin is now stocking a range of cakes provided by Knotts, one of Northern Ireland’s most successful craft bakeries.

Knotts, an award-winning bakery, launched its premium quality ‘pound’ cakes at Donnybrook Fair following a presentation of its products to the upmarket supermarket’s buyers.

The contract is the first won by the bakery outside Northern Ireland, where it is highly regarded for its commitment to freshness, and its variety of pound cakes such as Lemon and Ginger, Madeira, and Lime and Coconut. It follows the company’s participation in Invest NI organised meet the buyer events.

Knotts’s Andrew Getty describes the contract with Donnybrook Fair as “an immensely encouraging development for the bakery from a very prestigious and respected retailer.”

“We’ve been seeking to increase business beyond our established markets in Northern Ireland and have been keen to find the right retailer particularly in the Republic of Ireland.  Invest NI helped us to identify the key contact in Donnybrook Fair.

“We’ve taken our time to find the right partner because we wanted to tie up with a retailer which would recognise and share our dedication to quality and freshness. We have an uncompromising commitment based on using only the very best ingredients in all our products. The best ingredients produce the very best flavours. Donnybrook Fair is totally committed to products which combine quality, innovation, taste and wholesomeness.”

Established in 1979, Knotts is a family owned and managed business which has invested extensively in the development of a state-of-the-art bakery that also includes a retail outlet and restaurant. It has another shop in Holywood, Co Down.

The quality of Knotts Bakery was recognised when it was named among the championship award winners in the UK Great Taste Awards 2005, organised by the Guild of Fine Foods, for its rich fruitcake.

Welcoming the achievements of both companies, Maynard Mawhinney, Invest NI’s Food Director, says: “Our meet the buyer programme is a practical initiative that introduces smaller companies in particular to key buyers in both multiple and niche retailers. Smaller companies tend to find it difficult either to access such stores or to contact the right people responsible for purchasing decisions.

“What we’ve been doing over the past few years is to bring the buyers to meet them at our targeted events. In addition, our dedicated trade advisors in England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland regularly visit the stores to promote products from our companies and to develop business leads for them.”