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40% growth is forecast for food and drink sector

By Heather McGarrigle

Northern Ireland’s growing food and drink industry could bring in £4.5bn a year and sustain up to 107,000 jobs, a report said.

The research by management consultancy Goldblatt McGuigan for the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) said the industry could also grow sales by 40% over the next 10 years and create up to 15,000 new jobs. It claims that despite the recession, the food and drink industry grew by 3.3% in 2009. The report also highlights potential to grow sales to £4.5bn annually and to sustain up to 107,000 jobs.

Its key findings included the fact that around 20% of Northern Ireland’s private sector employment is derived from the agri-food sector.

It also reports that the Northern Ireland rural economy directly benefits from £3.2bn annual turnover in the food and drink industry, including £1.5bn worth of exported goods.

The report was co-written by economist Philip McDonagh and Michael Clarke, director of Goldblatt McGuigan.

Mr Clarke said Northern Ireland’s agri-food sector could |benefit from factors such as climate change, food security, the UK trade deficit in food and a growing world population.

But he warned of potential competition from Scotland and the Republic of Ireland.

“The Scottish Executive has set a target for the Scottish food and drink industry to grow sales by over 60% to £12.5bn by 2017. The Republic of Ireland government, in its recently published ‘Food Harvest 2020’ strategy, has set a target to grow exports of food and beverages by over 40% to €12bn including more than an additional €1bn into the UK market.

“If the Northern Ireland food and drink industry can match the ambition of its neighbours it can make a very significant contribution to the recovery and expansion of the local economy. Growth of 40% is likely to create in excess of £600m additional exports per annum.”

Tony O’Neill, chairman of NIFDA, said: “Government must put support for the food and drink industry at the heart of its economic development strategy.

“Government aspires to creating a local economy that is less dependent on the public sector. The food and drink industry is one sector that can help make that aspiration a reality.”

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