Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has said food and drink processing has become a key dynamo in driving manufacturing in Northern Ireland.
The Minister was speaking to industry leaders at the Food Promotion Northern Ireland stand, at this year’s Balmoral Show, in Belfast, today.
Arlene Foster said: “Despite the huge financial challenges in today’s global markets, our local food and drink industry is continuing to perform well.
“From farmer to processor, the food industry is not only achieving for the Northern Ireland economy but is increasingly the key dynamo driving our manufacturing sector.
“While output in the local food, drink and tobacco sector here increased by 8.9% in 2008, Great Britain experienced a decrease of 3.3%. It also performed better than the broader manufacturing sector, which saw a fall in output of 6.3 % over the same period.
“In addition, the number of people employed in the food, drink and tobacco sector has continued to grow, with around 19,220 jobs in the sector at December 2008, an increase of 2.9% over the year.”
The Minister encouraged more food and drink companies to embrace innovation and take advantage of the support provided by Invest NI in their bid to grow and develop at home and in markets outside of Northern Ireland.
She said: “It is greatly encouraging to see this sector’s commitment to innovation, its focus on quality and responsive approach to customers.
“I have seen at first hand the innovative products and new brands being developed and marketed aggressively by food companies, both large and small, at major international exhibitions.
“Invest NI’s comprehensive marketing campaign, which includes exhibition stands and ‘Meet the Buyer’ events with top international grocery retailers and food service organisations, is producing tangible benefits for participating companies. Over £25 million in new business has been generated over the past 18 months, by buying missions from Italy, Sweden, Spain and France, organised for the red meat sector.
“In the year ahead, Invest NI will run more than 40 food buyer events, missions and exhibitions, broker at least 500 buyer/company meetings and invest substantially in R&D, innovation as well as capital and revenue projects. Now is the time for our food and drink industry to seize these opportunities and seek out growth and development both here at home and in markets around the world.
“I and my Executive colleagues recognise the importance of the food and drink industry, especially to rural communities, and we stand ready and willing to help it achieve even greater success, particularly in export markets.”
The Minister also took the opportunity to recognise the Good Food TV campaign undertaken by Food Promotion Northern Ireland.