Food Exports Key To Recovery Of Northern Ireland’s Battered Economy

There was some potentially very significant news for the local farming industry last week in the shape of approval for two local processors Foyle Food Group in Campsie and Coleraine’s WD Meats to export products to the huge US marketplace.

The approvals have been a long time coming for all the companies involved as well as for staff at the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Development (DAERA).They’ve worked tirelessly with their colleagues in Britain to secure this important market access. Cold storage facility Granville Food Care in Dungannon, in addition, has been cleared for US business.

The US has been a closed market to UK meat processors for over 20 years because of health concerns. What the approval from the US authorities does is to offer access to a market worth around £66 million a year. I understand that the companies are moving quickly to prepare containers for customers there. I wish the three companies continuing success. There are opportunities too developing in Japan.

Our economy certainly needs to see more companies following the example of our meat processors in seizing the opportunities that are still developing steadily in global markets. The meat sector has long been a key generator of earnings from international exports, and I am confident that it will continue to grow strongly and to provide the additional employment opportunities we shall need in the months and years ahead.

I know that many of our smaller companies are endeavouring to recover business in Britain, the Republic and other marketsespecially with specialist retailers and hospitality outletspaused during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s really a hugechallenge for smaller businesses with very limited resources. Travelling, of course, continues to be difficult with companies reluctant to take risks with safety.

However, there was also good news from That Protein, the Belfast producer of super food powders n the shape of a gold in the annual Nourish Awards – for the third year in a row.

Food NI is ready to help the companies through our networks, especially those built up during Year of Food and Drink, andalso our engagement with Invest Northern Ireland who have specialist advisors in the UK and further afield.

The trade shows which have long been central to the success of smaller companies in Britain and the Republic have all been paused by the organisers until 2021… and many may not even be held until the end of 2021.

A recent report from Santander UK and the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) states that business confidence among many food and drink manufacturers is now at an all-time low.Despite this gloomy picture, the report sees light at the end of the current dark tunnel and suggests there are exciting untapped opportunities in some markets for quality food and drink from the UK.

Three particular market regions are highlighted in the report for such opportunities. They are the United Arab Emirates and wider Gulf region, China, and the US and Canada. The markets, however, are especially challenging for smaller companies. Several, however, have won business especially in the Emirates. Our whiskey and gin producers are beginning to make serious inroads in North America. Seafood enterprises have also won business in Europe, China and the US.

Exports to Canada, the UK’s third-largest non-EU preferential trade partner, grew by 5.7 percent so far in 2020, led by exports of gin, beef and salmon, the report said. Meanwhile, China has seen rapid growth in demand as consumers continue to perceive UK products to be safe and high-quality, with a sense of heritage.

In the UAE and the Gulf, the COVID-19 crisis has seen an increasing focus on healthier lifestyles in the region and increased demand for organic, functional foods and nutritionally-rich products.

I have no doubt our companies will still keep an eye on export opportunities as they work to rebuild business at home and in Britain and the Republic.  They are talented, tenacious and determined to bring quality food and drink to the table.