Unveiling of Year of Food and Drink Activities!

Tourism Northern Ireland chairman Terence Brannigan last week unveiled some of the activities being planned to celebrate the superb food and drink being produced here by companies of all sizes and across every sector. Northern Ireland’s first-ever Year of Food and Drink is going be an immensely exciting programme of activities both here and further afield.

While the tourism and food industries, among our most dynamic and innovative, will be in the lead, Year of Food and Drink will seek to engage the entire community in supporting what will be an extensive and, I believe, hugely important programme that will offer tangible benefits to the local economy in terms of wealth creation and employment and also create greater awareness of all that Northern Ireland has to offer.

I am especially keen to see the tremendous contribution being made by our major food businesses. We have genuinely world-class food and drink businesses which are hugely successful in international markets. It’s worth bearing in mind that food and drink from Northern Ireland is now enjoyed in around 80 countries including highly competitive and demanding markets such as China, the US, India and most parts of Europe. I heard recently that shortbread biscuits from a Northern Ireland bakery are now even on the supermarket shelves in Fiji!

What Year of Food and Drink will do is to increase awareness of our quality products and brands among consumers here, visitors and tourists and support initiatives such as Invest Northern Ireland to accelerate the growth in exports abroad.

We want consumers here in particular to find it a great deal easier to spot local products from major processors and smaller enterprises on the shelves and chillers in stores across Northern Ireland. And we want to see visitors taking back home great memories of tremendous food and drink, which could also encourage them to look for our products in the stores wherever they live.

We want consumers to take pride in the products and professionalism of our food and drink. And we’d welcome the support from industry leaders in particular for our endeavours to showcase the diverse range of premium quality and highly innovative food and drink. They have tremendous marketing muscle; contacts and experience that we need to ensure the success of the Year of Food and Drink.

As I mentioned earlier, Invest NI will be taking the lead in measures to help companies to develop sales abroad. Opportunities will be provided to companies, both large and small, to take part in business missions to key markets and to display their products at major food shows.

Another benefit for the bigger companies from the greater understanding of the contribution of our £5 billion food industry could be in the shape of recruitment. Many of our companies are currently finding it difficult to hire the talented employees they require to growth their business. I am confident that the high profile activities likely to surround Year of Food and Drink will raise the level of awareness of the career opportunities in the local food and drink industry.

Our bigger companies offer substantial opportunities to develop worthwhile and rewarding careers in areas such as strategic marketing and sales, new product development and food engineering. Year of Food and Drink will help the industry get the message to young people, their families, schools and colleges about the excellent and exciting career prospects for talented young people keen to develop relevant skills, knowledge and experience that employer’s value.

So, the legacies from Year of Food and Drink could be immensely important for our companies, especially the bigger employers, and the wider economy in terms of greater prosperity and employment for a significant increase in sales here and abroad.