Local focus generates business for NI food companies

Janine Shilleto, Asda senior buying manager for local and regional foods, pictured during a visit to Irwin's Bakery with chairman Brian Irwin, left, and Michael McCallion, buying manager for Asda NI
Janine Shilleto, Asda senior buying manager for local and regional foods, pictured during a visit to Irwin's Bakery with chairman Brian Irwin, left, and Michael McCallion, buying manager for Asda NI

The Northern Ireland agri-food industry has been boosted after news that sales of locally sourced products in Asda stores across the province grew by 8% last year.

And the response to food from NI was also positive across Asda’s UK-wide store network where sales were up 4.1% year-on-year.

The strong sales figures reflect customer feedback which associates locally produced food with quality, freshness and trust the firm said.

The results come on the back of the company’s renewed commitment to the local food sector, following on from the success of 2016 NI Year of Food & Drink.

The growth is also an outcome of Asda’s Supplier Development Academy, a bespoke training programme which has helped local companies boost their trading potential by up to 30%.

More than £300 million of produce is annually sourced by Asda from more than 100 suppliers across the island of Ireland.

Food innovation and new trends in food and drink consumption are reflected in sales performance, with locally produced ready meals growing by 24%, for example, as companies introducing new product lines.

The province’s fast emerging craft-brewing and distilling industry has also influenced local sales which have risen by 15%.

“Last year was another great year for our NI supply base – both at a local and national level,” said Asda NI buying manager Michael McCallion.

“We will continue to focus on the opportunities which will help our agri-food sector build their businesses with Asda by delivering the products and ranges which our customers want and trust.”

The retailer’s figures come at the end of a two-day event designed to boost export sales through a €1.8million EU-funded programme which aims to increase competitiveness and drive growth.

Delivered locally by the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA), the Atlantic Area Export Project brings together partners from France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and the United Kingdom, creating a collaborative network of companies and organisations which are embarking on their export journey.

“The focus of the Atlantic Area Export Programme is on helping SMEs in the food and drink sector overcome the barriers they face when they seek to expand their markets and export goods across international borders,” said NIFDA executive director Michael Bell.

“This event offered our partners from across Europe the chance to learn more about what the Northern Irish food and drink market has to offer and explore the opportunities of collaborative working.”