M&S marks 50 years in Northern Ireland with Balmoral showcase and two new pork products with local producers
Marks & Spencer is marking 50 years in business in Northern Ireland this year - and it said its relationship with food producers here has been a "cornerstone" of building a reputation here.
And this week, it enters its 15th year as a platinum sponsor of agri-food showcase Balmoral Show, which starts tomorrow at Balmoral Park, Lisburn.
The chain is launching two new ranges of Northern Ireland pork products - one produced by Co Tyrone firm Cookstown - part of Karro Food Group - and a low-fat range produced by Finnebrogue in Co Down.
M&S opened its first store here on Belfast's Donegall Place in September 1967. The supermarket chain's relationship with Northern Ireland suppliers began shortly after the firm launched here and saw Ballymena company O'Kane Poultry among the first local food processors to become suppliers.
The poultry producer's relationship with the chain has continued through its parent company Moy Park.
M&S is led by chief executive Steve Rowe - and his father Joe Rowe, a former director of food at M&S, appointed O'Kane Poultry in Ballymena as a supplier.
Since then Northern Ireland has become a major supply region for the M&S food business with beef, pork, venison, chicken, turkey, potatoes, bread and eggs produced for many stores across the UK and Republic of Ireland.
Steve McLean, M&S head of agriculture said: "Throughout the past 50 years, we have developed long-standing relationships with several of our local suppliers.
"Some of these companies such as Avondale Foods and Hovis Belfast (previously Ormo Bakeries) have been working alongside M&S since the opening of the Belfast store in 1967.
"We firmly believe that great food comes from great ingredients, produced by the best farmers and growers and this year our regional focus at Balmoral will include our 'local heroes' in recognition of our local suppliers and store colleagues, including a family with three generations - grandmother, mother and two daughters - that have worked at M&S.
"Over the past 50 years, M&S has always led the field in its support for local agriculture and farming sustainability and the Balmoral Show is an ideal platform for us to stamp our authority as a leading retailer, to maintain and build on close relationships with our farmers and producers and to communicate our 'Farming for the Future' partnership approach to sustainable agriculture.
"Over the four days of the show, M&S will showcase the suppliers who bring the very best regional food to its stores here, as well as those across the UK."
Visitors will also be able to see live chef demonstrations and sample some of the retailer's regional produce.
Its latest two ranges will see M&S not just work with local producers but also lead the way on harnessing market trends.
The new range, produced by M&S supplier Karro, includes some of the most popular fresh pork lines including loin steaks, pork fillets, crackling leg joints, rib racks and belly strips.
A new 'Skinny Pork Sausage' developed by long-term M&S supplier Finnebrogue Artisan, is the latest in a line of 'skinny' meat products at the chain.
Karro Group was recently sold by private equity owner Endless LLP to new owner CapVest.
M&S has said it will also use Balmoral Show as a platform to celebrate the development of UK farming techniques through its 'Farming for the Future Awards'.
The awards seek to encourage the most innovative farmers across the UK and rewards growers for their efforts in areas including efficiency, caring for the environment and ethical practice.
The short list for the 'Outstanding' category includes Co Armagh beef farmer John Dobson, and Co Antrim poultry farmer James Anderson.
Judges noted Anderson's commitment to green technology, attention to detail and animal welfare standards, and were impressed by Dobson's willingness to share good advice with fellow farmers and leading performance within the Linden supply base.
The 'Innovation' category short list includes Co Tyrone egg producer Jonathan Ewing and Co Down beef farmer Adam Waugh.
Ewing impressed judges by using technology for animal welfare and efficiency purposes, as well as for his innovative approach to recycling waste, while Waugh's investment in his farm's long-term sustainability and waste management system stood out among other entries.
The winners will be announced tomorrow on day one of Balmoral Show, which continues until Saturday.