A top food firm plans to invest up to £63m - and create 340 new jobs - in a huge new factory as it ramps up production of "next generation" plant-based products, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Finnebrogue Artisan, based in Downpatrick in Co Down, is planning a massive 300,000 sq ft factory, which the first phase will include a 200,000 sq ft development, as part of a £32.9m investment.
The company says it is "accelerating plans to expand the production of next generation plant-based products". "We have already invested £50m over the last five years in three factories in Co Down," a spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph.
"Our market-leading food innovation has turbo boosted our growth in that period.
"And we are now accelerating plans to expand the production of next generation plant-based products.
"We will be looking at making additional investment in facilities to allow us to bring these innovative new products to market in months and years to come.
"Consumers are now more in tune with the food they eat than at any time in history, demanding more nutritional and sustainable food products, and we are determined to deliver the food that they deserve, making it the best it can possibly be without being bound by the practices of the past."
In a fresh planning application, the company says it is part of a "major investment of over £63m" aiming to deliver "food production facilities in two phases to expand production capacity and complement the existing Finnebrogue Artisan range".
The company is best known for its range of meat-based products, including venison, as well as supplying Marks and Spencer with its wide range of sausages.
Earlier this year Denis Lynn, the owner of Finnebrogue Artisan, issued a call for hospitality sector staff who have been laid off as a result of the coronavirus pandemic to help with the strain on food production lines.
The new plans have already received support from South Down SDLP MLA Colin McGrath. In a letter, he says the application "represents the creation of several hundred sustainable jobs that will allow the successful candidates the opportunity to work in a job that also allows for advancement".
"In doing so, the ripple effect of more jobs created and more local people employed means the money going back into the local economy will be substantial."
The company's proposed new facility would sit close to the existing factory at Down Business Park.
"The proposed development forms part of the ongoing investment and future expansion of the company," according to a design statement.
"The company has invested over £60m in the local economy and currently employs over 700 staff."
The facility could include a huge food production site, waste water treatment works and energy centre. Finnebrogue has a wide range of meat products and sells into many of the major supermarkets here.
Last year it secured a deal to supply Asda with 10 products in its 'extra special' ranges. Six of the 10 products were created for Christmas 2019, including vegan products such as stuffing balls.