Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster praised the quality and innovation of Northern Ireland food companies at the International Food Exhibition (IFE) in London.
The Minister led an Invest Northern Ireland business delegation of representatives from over 20 local companies to the event, which is one of the largest food and drink industry exhibitions in the world.
Addressing local companies, international food buyers and trade media, the Minister said: "The IFE is one of the world's largest food and drink industry exhibitions and this year it has attracted the biggest-ever presence from Northern Ireland.
"This is very encouraging and I welcome the fact that so many of our local companies, both large and small, are keen to do business outside of Northern Ireland. Many are seeking to do so by exhibiting highly innovative products based firmly on our region's longstanding commitment to quality and natural food and drink.
"The Northern Ireland food and drink industry is our biggest manufacturing industry and has enormous potential to develop sales in international markets. Companies currently sell around £1.5 billion worth of products to Great Britain and contribute 13% of our total exports, worth over £600m annually to markets as diverse as the US, China and the Middle East, as well as key European markets such as France, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Scandinavia. It also provides jobs for 23% of our manufacturing workforce."
The Minister also highlighted the assistance and support provided by Invest NI in these recessionary times. She said: "A series of Invest NI initiatives, supported by my department, is assisting local companies in a number of sectors including that of the food and drink, to meet the challenges arising from the recession.
"We are helping them to invest in new products, enhance branding and design, and to explore international markets; measures that are helping our companies strengthen their overall market competitiveness.
"Invest NI has also put in place its biggest-ever programme of food and drink exhibitions to help raise Northern Ireland's profile. These include London's IFE and other events such as ANUGA in Cologne and Gulfood in Dubai, as well as trade missions and buyer events.
"A series of 'meet the buyer' events for the red meat sector during 2008, which involved retailers and foodservice organisations in Italy, Spain, Denmark and Sweden produced new business worth more than £20 million here.
"Such events can therefore generate increased business for local companies and help place Northern Ireland firmly on the international map."