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Innovation and sustainability key to future growth for food industry

Business leaders at the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) Business Conference have heard how enhancing environmental sustainability, driving innovation and investing in advanced manufacturing will be key to boosting growth for Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry.

The virtual event, hosted by NIFDA and supported by HSBC UK and Invest Northern Ireland, was broadcast live to 100 delegates from across the Northern Ireland food and drink sector.

Speaking after the 2021 NIFDA Business Conference, Michael Bell, Executive Director at the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA), said: “This is a pivotal time for Northern Ireland food and drink.

“Our largest manufacturing sector is currently facing a multitude of challenges – including labour shortages, Brexit, Covid-19, new food policies from government and more.

“At the same time, firms here are operating in an ever-evolving market environment and adapting to new consumer, retail, and regulatory demands relating to healthier diets, reduced carbon footprint and continuing affordability of food.

“Our theme for this year’s conference was ‘fresh thinking for future growth’, and each of our speakers touched on how the industry in Northern Ireland can and must innovate its way through these challenges, and further boost growth.

“One of the key messages to come out of the conference is the importance of enhancing the industry’s environmental credentials.

“For our customers and consumers, sustainability is no longer something that is nice to have – it is a must have.

“Likewise, improving our environmental footprint is likely to form a key pillar of future government food policy and support for the sector.

“While improving sustainability is a necessity, it also provides great opportunity for innovative firms.

“As our diverse range of expert speakers from across finance, retail, farming and government highlighted Northern Ireland food and drink is already world leading when it comes to sustainability, animal welfare, quality and commercial success.

“Working with government and partners across the food supply chain, we can be part of the solution on climate change, while continuing to grow and remaining competitive internationally.”

Gillian Morris, Head of Corporate Banking Northern Ireland at HSBC UK, added: “Northern Ireland’s food and drink businesses are at the forefront of driving innovative change and adapting to new demographics, buying patterns and eating habits in a rapidly changing macro environment.

“They’re also focussed on adjusting their business models to make their operations more productive and more environmentally sustainable.

“At HSBC UK we’re committed to supporting local food and drink businesses as they endeavour to boost their growth even further.”

The 2021 NIFDA Business Conference provided an interactive forum for forward-thinking food and drink manufacturers and producers to engage with industry leaders, receive expert insights into emerging market and regulatory trends, and get practical advice directly applicable to their businesses.

Delegates heard from experts from across the food and drink supply chain, with retail expert Dominic Darby providing key insights into how food companies can innovate to meet the expectations of the modern consumer; markets analyst Dr Clive Black, Head of Research at Shore Capital, explaining emerging market megatrends; and Gillian Morris, Head of Corporate Banking NI at HSBC UK, sharing thoughts on how firms can finance for the future.

Also speaking at the event was former National Farmers’ Union President and AHDB Chair Sir Peter Kendall, who laid out some of the key challenges and opportunities for the sector as he prepares his report for the Independent Strategic Review of NI Agri-Food for the Northern Ireland Executive.

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