World-class support for food and drink firms, conference hears

Innovation for Growth: Pictured at the conference on Wednesday at CAFRE's Loughry Campus were speakers: Shauna Burns, Ulster Bank, Michael McCallion, Asda, John Hood, Invest NI, Joy Alexander, CAFRE, and Des Kelly of Cavanagh Kelly.
Innovation for Growth: Pictured at the conference on Wednesday at CAFRE's Loughry Campus were speakers: Shauna Burns, Ulster Bank, Michael McCallion, Asda, John Hood, Invest NI, Joy Alexander, CAFRE, and Des Kelly of Cavanagh Kelly.

Northern Ireland has world-class support structures in place to maximise the potential of the local food and drink sector, delegates at a conference in Cookstown heard on Wednesday.

The Ulster Bank-organised event, at the new innovation centre in CAFRE’s Loughry Campus, featured speakers including Asda’s senior buying manager for Scotland and Northern Ireland, Michael McCallion, and John Hood, Director of Food and Tourism at Invest NI.

Some 100 food and drink sector representatives attended the ‘Innovation for Growth Conference’, which was intended to help start-up and small or medium companies have awareness and understanding of the support available to help them grow and realised their potential.

Also speaking were Joy Alexander, Head of Food Technology Development at CAFRE, and Des Kelly, partner at Cavanagh Kelly accountants.

Shauna Burns, Food Ambassador at Ulster Bank, outlined the bank’s significant support for food and drink companies.

Ms Burns said: “In many respects, CAFRE’s new centre, as a world-class hub for innovation, symbolises the importance of Northern Ireland’s food and drink sector and the commitment that there is to supporting its growth. And there is significant support available, whether that is through Ulster Bank, Invest NI, the facilities at Loughry, or through a range of other organisations.”

Nigel Walsh, Head of Sectors & Specialist Business at Ulster Bank comments: “Ulster Bank has £1.5billion available to lend to businesses this year, and a significant proportion of that lending is to Northern Ireland’s food and drink sector. We also have a dedicated proposition for food and drink businesses, and an expert team who understand the needs of the sector. The key message from the Innovation for Growth Conference is that considerable support is there and that companies should avail of it to take their business to the next level, whether that is through product development, exploring export opportunities, or investing in new technologies,” he adds.

The state-of-the-art Food Innovation Centre at Loughry aims to assist the agri-food sector to create and develop new concepts to meet the needs of a dynamic market place and to improve the educational experience for students.