The long-term opportunities for Northern Ireland’s food and drink sector far outweigh the current challenges it faces, Ulster Bank’s Head of Northern Ireland emphasised this week at one of the Balmoral Show’s flagship events.
Speaking at the Ulster Bank lunch in the show’s main marquee, Richard Donnan said that with weekly sales of some £175million, according to the latest figures, the food and drink manufacturing sub sector is an incredible Northern Ireland success story and has the potential to further elevate its growing international reputation.
Mr Donnan was joined by speakers at the event including Neal Kelly, Director of Fresh Foods at Henderson Group, which employs over 2,500 people in Northern Ireland and includes wholesale, retail and foodservice businesses.
Sir Howard Davies, Chairman of Ulster Bank’s parent company RBS also spoke to the audience of around 100, including senior representatives from local food and drink businesses.
Mr Donnan said that recent years had brought considerable challenges in relation to commodity prices, exchange rates and other issues, but that the food and drink sector remained a key driver of the Northern Ireland economy and has the potential to become even more globally recognised.
“Northern Ireland is blessed with fantastic natural resources and has talented people and businesses who are adding enormous value through innovation and an intimate understanding of their markets,” he pointed out.
“With the global population rising and developing countries becoming wealthier, demand for what Northern Ireland’s food and drink sector produces will only grow. It may not feel like it to everyone now, but the current challenges will also pass and the industry is well placed to capitalise.
“Collaboration within the sector as well as with government and banks like ourselves is one of the critical components of future success, so that challenges in the food chain can be overcome, export opportunities can be maximised, and the industry can be promoted to its full potential. That’s why I am delighted to see the Year of Food and Drink initiative this year, and I would encourage everyone in Northern Ireland to get behind it.
“We are almost half way through the Year of Food and Drink so there are six months left to maximise the opportunity to really build a global identity for Northern Ireland food and drink and help drive growth for many years to come,” he adds.
Addressing the audience, Neal Kelly, Director of Fresh Foods at Henderson Group, took the opportunity to give an insight into the Henderson business and the strategies they have implemented to create success. “Members of the local agri-food sector are operating in an increasingly challenging arena and barriers to business seem to be intensifying.
“In order to be successful, we at Hendersons forced ourselves not to fear change and found that being adaptive and moving with our market has led to significant growth across all aspects of our business.
“I would strongly encourage everyone here today to avoid stagnation by placing more focus on innovation and have the courage to take risks in order to allow your business the freedom to flourish.
“What’s more, we have found that our dedication to local produce has had real resonance with our customers, who are paying closer attention than ever to the food that goes on their plates.
“We work daily with the top supply companies in Northern Ireland and are proud to have these ranges on our shelves. Seeing first-hand the excellent practices and products they deliver gives me great confidence about the overall health of our local food industry and assurance that it will continue to thrive for many years to come.”