Population growth and food service key opportunities for local food and drink sector

From L to R, Sandra Sullivan, Director, Food and Drink Exportese; William Thompson, Agri Manager Northern Ireland, Bank of Ireland; Dr Clive Black, Head of Research, Shore Capital; John Hood, Director of Food and Tourism, Invest NI; Stephane Durand, Project Manager, Agri-Food Quest Competence Centre.
From L to R, Sandra Sullivan, Director, Food and Drink Exportese; William Thompson, Agri Manager Northern Ireland, Bank of Ireland; Dr Clive Black, Head of Research, Shore Capital; John Hood, Director of Food and Tourism, Invest NI; Stephane Durand, Project Manager, Agri-Food Quest Competence Centre.

Despite the current challenges in agriculture in Northern Ireland, Delegates at the fourth annual ‘Appetite for Growth’ conference were given an upbeat message about the opportunities that may exist in the future for the industry as a result of the fast growing population in Great Britain and the rise in popularity of eating out amongst consumers.

Dr Clive Black, keynote speaker at the event, advised that capitalising on these trends should form a major part of any business growth strategy over the next few years, with GB’s population set to expand from 64.5 million to around 80 to 90 million by 2050, and food service set to continue on an upward trend. He also advised that a strong currency is good over the long term as it forces companies to look at areas where they can improve, including taking advantage of international sourcing within their supply chains.

The conference, hosted by the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) and supported by Bank Of Ireland UK and Invest NI, brought together a wide range of industry experts to explore topics including research and innovation, emerging trend in the UK retail sector, and developing an export strategy. Other speakers on the day included Sandra Sullivan from Food and Drink Exportese and Stephane Durand of the Agri-Food Quest Competence Centre at Queen’s University.

Executive Chairman of NIFDA, Michael Bell, said: “The latest trends emerging in the UK retail sector have huge implications for the local industry here. 35% of calories currently consumed in the UK are at restaurants and cafes, and this is set to grow as consumers look to purchase affordable treats, whilst being more selective on pure supermarket expenditure. The supermarket sector has changed vastly over the last ten years in line with consumer spending habits, and this is forcing food and drink manufacturers and processors to explore future growth areas and to invest more resources in innovation, adding value and export.

“We have great networks of support like NIFDA available in Northern Ireland and we have recently helped 90 small and medium sized business to develop a successful export value added/provenance strategy through our Access 6 programme. We look forward to seeing more businesses here capitalising on their growth potential and further expanding our world class food and drink sector.”