Salad producer says innovation is at the heart of its continuing growth
A salad and prepared vegetable producer in Co Down has said it has achieved growth of around 18% on average every year over the past decade.
Willowbrook Foods, Ireland's biggest producer of bagged salads, said the opening of a new innovation centre 10 years ago helped propel its growth.
The company also opened a second production facility in Newtownards earlier this year.
It supplies products across the UK and Ireland and is also developing lines for Dubai and Hong Kong.
The firm has also bounced back after its Spanish lettuce supply was hit by extreme weather in January 2017.
Managing director John McCann said the innovation centre at its Killinchy headquarters had allowed it to develop new products such as a non-dairy, low-salt mashed potato for catering in the healthcare sector.
Mr McCann explained: "The Willowbrook Innovation Centre has been instrumental in taking our business to new levels over the past decade, helping us sustain on average 18% annual growth during that time.
"We set about building a facility with modern kitchens, state-of-the-art tasting and packing areas, and, most importantly, a first-class team of staff specialising in all elements of product development.
"A major investment for us at the time, the centre has allowed us to perfect our offering to customers to reflect emerging food trends with the best ingredients, flavour, texture and shelf life."
He continued: "We have been able to enter into new markets such as healthcare and travel catering through our ability to develop bespoke product lines and pack formats through the innovation centre."
And he added that the firm had been able to stay one step ahead of consumer trends.
"To use one product example, we have developed and perfected a full range of mashed vegetable lines, including potato, carrot, swede, parsnip and sweet potato. This range contains no additives.
"Equally, we have been able to develop more niche health-focused lines including non-dairy, low-salt, mashed potato," said Mr McCann.