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Supporting the sector's appetite for expansion


Ulster Bank’s Nigel Walsh believes the food and drink sector here is thriving

Ulster Bank’s Nigel Walsh believes the food and drink sector here is thriving

Shane O'Neill / Fennells

Ulster Bank’s Nigel Walsh believes the food and drink sector here is thriving

In business, as in life, it can be easy to overlook the good things that are in front of us. As we assess where growth and jobs will come from, we should continue to show an appetite for, and celebrate the performance of Northern Ireland’s food and drink sector.

These businesses are some of the most economically important parts of the private sector, and helping them fulfil their potential could provide Northern Ireland with a strategic comparative advantage on the world stage.

The food and drink processors category made up around £1.4bn of manufacturing exports in 2013, demonstrating that it is a sizeable sub-set of the sector.

Successful businesses have been able to drive this performance through their focus on the fundamentals, taking advantage of product differentiation in a more globalised marketplace, and leveraging a local reputation for quality.

All are important steps that food and drink businesses can take to put themselves on a long-term path for sustainable growth.

What is encouraging to see is the way  the sector is being accorded its proper priority by the relevant government and industry bodies. Our businesses are testament to successful promotion of Northern Ireland’s businesses and products at home and abroad.

At Ulster Bank, we believe it’s important that businesses see the strength and depth of this support. Earlier this month, we hosted an event at the new food innovation centre in the Loughry Campus of the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) to share best practice for food and drink businesses, as well as raising awareness of the support opportunities available for local SMEs operating in the sector.

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Around 100 attendees from some of Northern Ireland’s most exciting companies were there to take the opportunity to network and build a greater understanding of how financial institutions and trade promotion bodies can work together to help them grow.

As a bank, we’ve shown our support through the creation of a dedicated food and drink proposition for local businesses. This is in addition to the £1.5bn that Ulster Bank has made available this year, and I’ve seen first-hand the progress we’ve made in supporting exciting new growth prospects.

The spirit of innovation and looking forward makes us proud to have a dedicated category for Food & Drink businesses in the Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards.

By recognising the unique challenges that these businesses face, we hope to help inspire the next generation of talented people who want to enter this industry, as well as providing existing companies with a tangible seal of approval for their work to date.