Andy Adcock, Director of Food at Marks & Spencer has heaped praise on Northern Ireland’s food producers and suppliers, singling the region out as a centre for food quality and innovation.
Speaking to business leaders at the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association’s Annual Dinner, Mr Adcock reflected on the supermarket’s long standing relationship with the industry here.
He added: “In the 50 years since Marks & Spencer first arrived in Northern Ireland much has changed, but our commitment to high quality, locally sourced produce has remained steadfast. The region is home to some our most loyal customers and enthusiastic colleagues and each time I come, I’m struck by the passion displayed across our stores, factories and farms.
“Sourcing locally is really important to Marks & Spencer, and Northern Ireland is one of our biggest supply regions, with 11 direct suppliers and around 1,500 farms producing into the supply chain. The range of produce sourced here is extensive, including beef, pork, chicken, bread and eggs. We’re also a net exporter of these products, selling produce from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK, as well as places like Paris, Hong Kong and Dubai.
“The province is rich in top food and drink companies and our success here is in no small part thanks to the commitment of our suppliers and their products. The future is certainly challenging, as changes in the way customers consume food require us to innovate faster than ever before.
“However, in partnership with our network of Northern Ireland suppliers, we look forward to meeting the challenges ahead as together we maintain our mutual reputation for quality, innovation and great taste. The dinner, which was sponsored by Danske Bank, was attended by over 200 members of the agri-food business community.
Declan Billington, NIFDA Chairperson also addressed members at the event. Whilst acknowledging the efforts of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to ensure that Northern Ireland’s voice is heard during Brexit negotiations, he took the opportunity to challenge the Department on its failure to implement a number of key recommendations from the Agri Food Strategy Board:
“One of these recommendations was around the development of a marketing body for the industry which helps to raise our profile in export markets. However, as it stands, the funding proposal for this much needed body has yet to be approved by the Department for the Economy.
“Similarly, we have enormous concerns over DAERA’s position in relation to supporting larger companies in the Processor Grant Improvement Scheme. We urge decision makers to take their lead from DEFRA in England, where large companies are eligible, rather than attempt to devise a separate version of what has already been agreed.”
Shaun McAnee, Managing Director of Corporate and Business Banking at Danske Bank added: “This year’s NIFDA dinner has once again highlighted the importance of the agri-food sector to the local economy.
“NIFDA plays a hugely important role in bringing together our local food and drink producers and processors and we are very proud to count nearly a third of NIFDA members as our customers. We are delighted that through our sponsorship of the annual dinner we will be able to further support the wider industry.”