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Finance Minister stresses vital role of food and drink sector in region

The importance of the food and drink sector to the Northern Ireland economy - representing an annual turnover of £3.2bn and employing over 19,000 people - has been highlighted.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson was speaking during a tour of Mash Direct in Comber, Co Down.

He met with representatives from the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) when they presented him with a copy of a recent independent report 'The value of food and drink in Northern Ireland'.

"The food and drink sector provides an important contribution to the Northern Ireland economy with a gross turnover in 2009 of £3.2bn and a total employment of 19,200," he said.

"As we continue to deal with the harsh economic situation and the challenges ahead, Northern Ireland's economy will become more reliant on the development and growth of the private sector.

"Mash Direct is an example where a small family run business working in a traditional industry was innovative, diversifying their activities, and was able to seek out new market opportunities. With marketing support from Invest NI, the company has expanded its business and currently employs 95 people.

"Growing our economy must be the number one priority and I firmly believe that innovative firms in the food and drink sector like Mash Direct have the potential for real growth, particularly at the higher value added end of the market.

"There will be many hurdles to overcome and there is a long road ahead for economic recovery but I am confident that collectively we have the potential to make Northern Ireland a good place to do business and develop economic growth."