Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has launched Invest Northern Ireland’s new £2.7million Innovation Vouchers Programme, which will help small businesses use innovation to grow and succeed.
The Minister made the announcement as she visited fresh cut fruit processor Orchard County Foods in Craigavon. The company which trades as Simply Fruit, received a £4,000 Innovation Voucher from Invest NI earlier this year as part of a pilot scheme.
Working with the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), at Loughry, to investigate ways of lengthening the shelf of its fruit snack products, the company developed a new product which is expected to increase annual sales by £1million and will also create an additional nine jobs taking the workforce to 50.
Launching the new Innovation Vouchers scheme, the Minister said: “The success of Orchard County Foods clearly demonstrates the importance of continuously developing new and existing products and services. The £4,000 voucher can help businesses to fully utilise technical and scientific expertise, and make a huge difference to their competitiveness in export markets.
“This increased funding for Invest NI’s Innovation Voucher Programme, covering the next three years, will enable more small businesses than ever before to access specialist expertise that they may not possess in-house.
“This could be crucial in facilitating potentially lucrative advances in the further development of their product and service offerings. Small enterprises are the cornerstone of our economy so it is essential that we help as many as possible to fully utilise innovation in order to capitalise on new business opportunities.”
Patrick McCann, Managing Director of Orchard County Foods, said: “Orchard County Foods are at the leading edge of new product development and with the new Simply Fruit brand and innovative products, we believe we are well positioned to benefit from the changes in the snack foods market, as an ever increasing number of consumers move away from traditional confectionery products into more healthier eating options.
“We are always keen to improve the quality and saleability of our product range in order to attract new business. The Innovation Voucher we received from Invest NI proved invaluable, enabling us to access expertise at CAFRE that helped us take a big step forward. As a result, the business has launched a new pineapple snack, marketed as a pineapple lolly, which is now available in 680 Tesco stores across the UK. We expect this to lead to an additional £1million of sales.”
“The Innovation Voucher project has already led to increased orders and we also hope the greater shelf life, and improved transportability, will help us boost sales into the UK and Republic of Ireland markets.”
The announcement of the new Innovation Voucher Programme follows a highly successful pilot period during which 250 vouchers were awarded to small businesses right across Northern Ireland, with over £350,000 of funding delivered to date.
From today, small registered businesses can apply for an Invest NI Innovation Voucher, worth up to £4,000, which they can redeem against the cost of specialist expertise from universities, colleges and publicly funded research institutes. The knowledge available can be applied to areas such as product development, process streamlining and customer interface improvement.
The Innovation Voucher Programme is currently open for applications until 30 November. More information is available from www.innovationvouchers.com