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A new single food and drink marketing body, announced by the then Enterprise minister Arlene Foster in March, could be up and running early in 2016, good timing given that it's our first-ever Year of Food.
What is envisaged is a private company involving industry leaders and representatives from the departments of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and Agriculture and Rural Development as well as Invest Northern Ireland, the main deliverer of food and drink marketing services. It's an approach along the lines of Scotland Food and Drink,
What the new body definitely won’t result in is a collapsing of existing industry organisations, as happened when Bord Bia was set up in the Republic of Ireland. The proposed Northern Ireland food marketing body will be industry-led and will work in collaboration with existing bodies to drive sales of food and drink abroad.
Invest NI will remain responsible for the global marketing of local food and collaborate with the new body in developing initiatives abroad and the key global markets. The body will also seek to strengthen relationships with the Republic's Bord Bia and Ornua, the Irish Dairy Board, as well as Scotland Food and Drink.
The first challenge the new body will face will be the global markets to be targeted and the resources required to achieve the 75 per cent growth in sales outside Northern Ireland, currently at £2.6 billion including around £1 billion in exports, in the Agri-Food Strategy Board’s Going for Growth strategic action plan in 2013.
Scotland Food & Drink is fundamentally a not-for-profit organisation that was created in 2007 to guide food and drink companies of all sizes towards increased profitability. It aims to grow the industry there to a value of £16.6 billion by 2017, making it “more profitable and delivering greater global success in a challenging and competitive environment”. It works with a number of established partner organisations in order to deliver events and initiatives to the benefit of member companies and the food and drink industry as a whole.
A principal partner is Scottish Development International (SDI), the trade
and inward investment body, which has over 240 staff based in Scotland and in 27 offices around the world. There's no way, of course that its Northern Ireland equivalent can hope for such resources.
Guiding Scotland & Food’s approach is an new export strategy that targets growth to £7.1 billion by the end of next year and identifies the ‘Top 15’ markets. To avoid spreading finite resources too thinly, the export strategy identifies the markets likely to yield the best and fastest growth. To help achieve this, Scotland Food and Drink plans to have ‘feet on the ground’ in-market experts in place over the next three years.
Scotland’s exports, worth £5.3 billion and the nation’s fastest growing sector, are driven essentially by whisky, salmon and seafood. £8 in every £10 of revenue comes from just 10 markets, and half of that comes from salmon and seafood. Other growth sectors pinpointed by Scotland Food & Drink for faster growth are dairy, particularly cheese, seafood, beef and craft beer. The biggest challenge is to switch the dependence on whisky which currently contributes 20 per cent of the nation’s exports. A new Scottish dairy brand was recently introduced.
The strategy is based on “unprecedented collaboration and pooling of resources”. “This means specialist support for the whole industry on a scale that it has never experienced before. The key will be putting feet on the ground. We’ll be bringing together all our combined market and sector expertise to build a global team of food and drink experts, operating in our priority export markets.
“Their brief will be to open up a raft of new opportunities for ambitious Scottish exporters. Specialists who really know their business, they’ll knock on doors and build contacts with importers and buyers such as hotels, restaurants and supermarkets,” the strategy adds.
Scotland Food and Drink pinpointed these markets as offering the greatest growth potential:
North America (USA & Canada)
Middle East (UAE, Saudi Arabia & Bahrain)
Mainland China and Hong Kong
SE Asia (Singapore, Thailand)
The industry in Northern Ireland will have to decide on global market priorities for Invest NI to develop relevant business intitiatives. This will be an important challenge for the industry and representatives on the new company.