A new agri-food marketing body is to be established to help assist in the growth and development of the industry.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has confirmed that the new industry-led body would follow closely to the format of the successful Scotland Food and Drink and be of benefit to the entire agri-food sector.
The establishment of a new industry-led agri-food marketing body, which would be similar to the already successful Scotland Food and Drink, will provide a significant and exciting opportunity for the Northern Ireland agri-food industry to work together for the benefit of the entire sectorEnterprise Minister Arlene Foster
The minister explained: “The food and drink sector is hugely important to the Northern Ireland economy. It has a proven track record for growth, with turnover increasing by 6.7% last year to £4.5 billion.
“The sector accounts for around a quarter of manufacturing industry sales and external sales. In terms of employment, agri-food supports almost 100,000 jobs when we include farming, fishing, retail and distribution,” she explained.
“If we are to continue to grow the sector we must ensure that our excellent agri-food offering is marketed to best effect, both at home and in markets outside Northern Ireland. This was one of the key issues identified by the Agri-Food Strategy Board in Going for Growth, the board’s strategic plan for the agri-food industry in Northern Ireland.
“The establishment of a new industry-led agri-food marketing body, which would be similar to the already successful Scotland Food and Drink, will provide a significant and exciting opportunity for the Northern Ireland agri-food industry to work together for the benefit of the entire sector.”
“This body will play a pivotal role in providing strategic leadership and direction for the marketing activities of both Government and private sector organisations.”
In response to the minister announcement, UFU President Ian Marshall said effective marketing of Northern Ireland’s “world class agri-food industry” on a local, national and international scale is vitally important to seeing the sustainable growth plans laid out in ‘Going for Growth’ realised.
Mr Marshall said: “The Union has always believed strongly and argued that Northern Ireland needs well funded, co-ordinated and export focused marketing to help assist in the growth and development of the industry. Many sectors already undertake their own marketing through commercial companies and specialised, well-established marketing structures all which will posses significant expertise in promoting their own areas.
“The creation of a new industry-led body would enable all of these to work together for the benefit of the NI agri-food industry as a whole, ultimately strengthening their own sectoral marketing positions as well. However, it is important that farmers are not forgotten and any marketing plans should not be to the detriment or at the expense of the primary production part of the food chain.
“In addition to collaborative and integrated marketing, the Union is strongly supportive of building a strong and recognisable brand that establishes Northern Ireland as a premier source region for quality food and food ingredients.”
Earlier in the week, Minister Foster declared that 2016 will be officially designated Northern Ireland’s Year of Food,
Speaking at the Tourism Northern Ireland annual conference, the minister said: “We have some of the best food and the best restaurants in the world, and the potential this has when it comes to tourism cannot be underestimated. Food tourism already generates over £350million per year to the local economy, but I believe there is significant room for further growth. That’s why I have asked Tourism Northern Ireland to begin preparatory work to develop the Year of Food initiative and have secured funding to allow them to do so.
“We know how good our food is, which is probably why we enjoy eating out so much, the recent Barclaycard report showing Northern Ireland people spend more on eating out than the rest of the UK is proof of that. Now it’s time to build on our growing reputation for excellence and give visitors even more mouth watering reasons to come here.”
The minister added: “We have a great story to tell, and this is a very exciting opportunity to really celebrate our food sector.
“We boast some world-class produce, not to mention talented chefs, restaurants, skilled cookery schools and a rich food heritage, all of which is becoming better known, especially in GB, which is our key market. The Year of Food will enable us to continue to raise our profile nationally and to promote Northern Ireland food tourism on the international stage.”
Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill, welcomed the announcement that a ‘Year of Food’ initiative will run throughout 2016.
This cross-Departmental and industry partnership initiative aims to promote and establish confidence in home grown produce to consumers and visitors alike. In addition, it offers an opportunity to increase employment capacity in the food and hospitality sectors, and create a favourable image of food from the north throughout external markets.
Commenting on the announcement, Minister O’Neill said: “This is an opportunity to build on existing activities and events to showcase, strengthen and grow the reputation of food from the north of Ireland. Planning for this initiative is already well underway with my officials working closely with those from other Government Departments and industry bodies.
“I hope the momentum will continue to build as this is another unique opportunity for everyone in the north to work collaboratively to reach a common goal. There will be many opportunities for numerous groups and organisations to get involved and I will continue to provide my support and that of my department to develop the initiative and to assess the benefits that it will bring, subject to budgetary and resource constraints.”
Chair of the Agri-Food Strategy Board (AFSB), Tony O’Neill, has welcomed the Enterprise Minister’s support for establishment of a new industry led agri-food marketing body.
Mr O’Neill said “The AFSB has been working closely with DETI, Invest NI, DARD and industry stakeholders to identify the best way to put this recommendation into practice. Crucially, the clear message from stakeholders, in government and industry, is that any new agri-food marketing body must be industry-led and commercially focussed.”
Mr O’Neill added: “We have considered best practice in agri-food marketing and have identified Scotland Food and Drink as a tried, tested and successful industry-led model which could be replicated here to great effect. The Scottish model offers the flexibility and ability to react which is essential in responding to the dynamic nature of agri-food.”