Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has told an international audience that local food and drink companies are beating the recession by focusing on exports.
Speaking at the international SPAR LOGIT (Logistics and ICT) conference, held in Belfast for the first time, the Minister addressed an audience of around 100 delegates, including some 50 directors and senior management from 20 SPAR Partners worldwide.
Arlene Foster said: “Food and drink companies have become the dynamo driving our manufacturing sector here. The Northern Ireland food and drink industry grew by almost 9% in 2008, while Great Britain experienced a decrease of 3.3%.
“The industry’s importance to the local economy is evident in the number of people it employs. There were some 19,220 jobs in the sector at December 2008, an increase of 2.9% over the year. Indeed, food and drink processing now provides 23% of total manufacturing employment in Northern Ireland."
The Minister highlighted Northern Ireland’s position amongst the biggest suppliers of food and drink to Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
She said: "Products worth more than £600million are sold to markets outside the United Kingdom. When sales to Great Britain of more £1.5billion are included, the proportion of goods sold to customers outside Northern Ireland rises to more than 60%.
“Overall, the food and drink sector contributes around 15% of external sales and 13.5% of exports of manufactured goods. Furthermore, at 14.5%, it is the biggest contributor to manufacturing Gross Value Added.”
The conference was organised by the Henderson Group, the local SPAR franchisee for the past 50 years. SPAR and the Henderson Group employ almost 2,500 people and had sales in excess of £370million in 2007.
Arlene Foster took the opportunity to praise the substantial contribution that the company makes to the local economy.
She said: "SPAR is a successful global retailing organisation and its network in Northern Ireland and abroad is contributing to the growth in sales of local products; something that I strongly encourage.
"Invest NI will continue to work closely with the SPAR network, which now extends to 33 countries including China, to help our local food and drink companies access opportunities for sales of existing lines as well as develop new, high value products for customers in these markets."
The Minister also highlighted the Henderson Group’s extensive and ongoing investment, over many years, in developing best practice techniques in key areas such as storage and distribution.