Top Italian meat buyers seek local companies

One of Italy’s leading retail chains will be represented in a group of meat buyers from Milan and Bologna hosted by Invest Northern Ireland from 24-26 January. Senior buyers from seven companies are scheduled to explore opportunities to source beef and lamb from Northern Ireland suppliers.

The group includes Bologna-based Conad, a major retail chain with almost 3,000 supermarkets and 26 hypermarkets throughout Italy, and a leading meat buyer. The chain currently has a 10 per cent share of the Italian market. The buyers, who will be based in Armagh, Enniskillen and Limavady, will be meeting representatives from local companies and visiting several production plants.

The visit is the latest ‘meet the buyer’ initiative arranged by Invest NI’s Food Division as part of an ongoing programme of activities designed to assist Northern Ireland beef and lamb companies to expand sales to retailers and foodservice organisations in target markets such as Italy, France, Spain and the Nordic region. The Italian visit has been organised by Invest NI in association with the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association and the National Beef Association.

Face-to-face meetings with 10 local companies have been lined up by Invest NI. The buyers will also be visiting a local farm and will be briefed about meat retailing in the UK during a visit to the Tesco supermarket at Newtownbreda, Belfast.

The Italian group also includes buyers from Jolanda de Colo in Milan, one of the top distributors of meat to restaurants and butchers.

Maynard Mawhinney, Invest NI Food Director, commenting on the latest visit, said: “This visit is the second to Northern Ireland by Italian retailers and foodservice organisations in the past two years.

“We’ve also taken local beef and lamb processors to Italy for meetings with major purchasing organisations. Recently Lem Carne, another business from Bologna, decided to source beef from Northern Ireland suppliers following a visit that we organised.

“Italy is now the third most important market in Europe for beef consumption. It imports almost a third of the fresh meat bought by consumers.

“The forthcoming delegation comprises companies which haven’t been here before and will be exploring supplier agreements with our companies for the first time. It’s the outcome of our focus on reaching out to new business prospects in Italy and other markets on behalf of the local red meat industry.

“It’s a strategically important industry that currently generates annual sales in excess of £1 billion, selling around 40 per cent of output to major European retailers including Carrefour and Auchan in France, Albert Heijn and Jumbo in the Netherlands, and Spain’s Mercadona.

“Our aim is to introduce our companies to second and third tier retailers and foodservice organisations. We are targeting the independent butchers in particular because this remains a crucially important sector particularly in the south of the country.  

“More than a third of all beef sales are through butchers, who now source supplies from wholesalers. Italian consumers are still willing to pay a premium price for the type of high quality products that our companies provide.”

“Our beef and lamb processors also now offer an extensive portfolio of quality and richly flavoured products ranging from gourmet burgers to matured sirloin.”