Minister pledges support for local food and drink industry

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has pledged continued support for local food and drink companies seeking to grow business outside Northern Ireland.

The Minister was speaking at the food and drink industry’s annual gala awards ceremony, organised by the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA), in the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.

The ceremony featured the presentation of nine awards in areas such as innovation and quality. Arlene Foster presented two Invest NI-sponsored awards – the ‘Taste of Ulster Food Service Award’, which was won by Willowbrook Farm, and the award for ‘Best Local Food and Drink Promotional Event’, which was won by Curleys Ltd.

Speaking to an audience of 500 guests from the food and drink processing trades, hospitality industry and local media, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: “Food and drink companies make a substantial contribution to the Northern Ireland economy and currently sell around 75% of their products, worth £2billion annually, outside Northern Ireland.

“Food and drink processing contributes 15% of the external sales by Northern Ireland manufacturers. It also makes a substantial contribution to the local economy in terms of value added to manufactured goods.

“I am convinced that the industry, worth around £2.8billion to the local economy, has the commitment to innovation and developing quality products, to expand sales substantially in the global marketplace.

“My department and Invest NI will continue to encourage and support food and drink companies, now our biggest single manufacturing industry, to grow exports faster, through promotional activities in markets beyond Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.”

Highlighting the practical support developed specifically for the food and drink sector by Invest NI, in consultation with such representative bodies as the Industry Advisory Panel, the Minister said: “Our support for the industry, which has a strong presence throughout Northern Ireland, is already significant. This support includes promotional activities and programmes, designed to enable Northern Ireland food and drink companies to develop skills and expertise in areas such as new product development, branding, marketing, productivity and sales techniques.”

Arlene Foster said that over the past three years, Invest NI had put in place the biggest-ever programme of promotional activities, including opportunities for companies to take part in exhibitions, trade missions and buyer events in support of the industry.

She said: “Around 40 trade missions, buyer events and exhibitions have enabled companies to explore opportunities in markets as diverse as Europe, North America, Scandinavia and the Middle East.

“The promotion of Northern Ireland products is also being assisted by a team of experienced marketing advisers in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland and by means of a series of ‘Meet the Buyer’ events in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Denmark and India.

“Almost 600 buyer meetings have been organised for local companies, with 120 buying organisations including major retailers, independents and food service organisations over the past three years.

“Participating companies tell us that these events have been extremely worthwhile and have already generated over £30million in new business.”

As she prepares to join 30 companies at the International Food Exposition (IFE) in London on 17 March, the Minister said: “The IFE will be the largest ever Northern Ireland representation of local food and drink companies at what is regarded as one of the big six global food & drink exhibitions. This will offer tremendous exposure for our local companies and their products. Such promotional activity is to be welcomed at this challenging time.”

In conclusion, Arlene Foster said: “In Northern Ireland, we have the talent, the vision and the drive to face down the economic recession. I hope that the local food and drink industry will not only continue to lead the way for other sectors, but will build on the successes of the past and emerge with a stronger spirit, a more innovative drive and a higher desire to succeed than ever before."