Economy Minister Nigel Dodds welcomed 10 top buyers from Italian meat companies at an inward buyer event in Belfast today.
Mr Dodds also took the opportunity to give his support to senior managers from 13 Northern Ireland beef and lamb processing companies, seeking to develop business in one-to-one meetings with members of the Italian delegation.
The inward visit was organised jointly by Invest Northern Ireland and the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC).
Speaking at the event, which was held at Invest NI’s headquarters, Minister Dodds said: “This delegation from Italy is one of the largest and most influential inward buyer missions ever to visit Northern Ireland and as such, its presence is very important to our economy. I am confident that our meat processing industry can rise to the challenge and offer the delegation premium quality and innovative products that will readily find a place on Italian tables.
“Collectively the buying power of the Italian visitors is substantial and presents a major new export opportunity for an important manufacturing sector here. The visit also represents a significant breakthrough for Invest NI and LMC in their work to help red meat companies expand business in key European markets.
“The beef and lamb sector is one of our most successful food processing industries achieving total sales in 2004 of £580million and providing almost 3,000 jobs. The export challenge is now being addressed proactively and future planned events will also support the industry as it seeks to expand export sales.
“To achieve this and to differentiate themselves from their competitors, our companies must continue to invest substantial amounts in product innovation in what is a very challenging consumer-led marketplace. I am confident that they can, and will, succeed in strengthening their share in key European markets.”
The visit follows on from an earlier exploratory outward visit by Northern Ireland companies to Italy last October. That was co-ordinated jointly by Invest NI, the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and LMC.
It is also in line with the export focus recommended for the growth of the Northern Ireland food industry in the ‘Fit for Market’ strategy. This is now being implemented by Invest NI and DARD, with support from LMC and other sectoral representative organisations.
Following the Minister’s welcome, the buyers received a briefing on the meat industry in Northern Ireland. Local companies then had over 100 individual one-to-one meetings with the buyers to discuss trade and other commercial opportunities in the Italian marketplace.