Michele Shirlow Chief Executive Food NI – Farm Week 21st Sept 2018

Discounter gives our smaller food and drink firms a start


Congratulations to several of our member companies on winning business with German discounter Lidl Ireland through its Kick Start initiative. This important scheme aims to offer smaller food businesses an opportunity to reach shoppers throughout Ireland with the prospect of an extended listing, perhaps eventually to Great Britain and other parts of Europe.


Just a few of the successful Food NI members include Erne Larder Preserves from Enniskillen, a unique bacon jam using Fermanagh Black Bacon from Pat O’Doherty; Tom&Ollie of Broughshane for its Mediterranean foods such as pesto and roasted tomatoes; and Noisy Nuts of Ballygowan, a specialist in flavoured peanuts created to match craft beers. Copeland Gin, furthermore, is now supplying its fruit infused gin to the retailer along with craft brewer Hillstown in Randalstown.


Their excellent products will be featured in over a 100 stores in Northern Ireland and the Republic over the next few weeks. Sales will determine if they are to join Lidl Ireland’s supply chain on a longer term basis.


Many of our member companies will also be featuring in the Tesco Taste Festival this weekend in Belfast. Now in its 10th year, the festival is a great showcase of our quality and innovative food and drink. You shouldn’t miss it. It’s a great demonstration of just how important Tesco is to the industry here.


And another member, Glastry Farm Ice Cream from Kircubbin has just won its first business with Aldi, another German discount retailer in the Republic, for three products.  At least four other members, Bangor’s Clandeboye Yoghurt, Linden Foods of Dungannon, Dale Farm, Belfast and White’s Oats Tandragee are longstanding Aldi suppliers.


It’s immensely encouraging to see the discounters now doing greater business with local suppliers. Lidl has followed in the footsteps of other retailers, including Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s, here in developing schemes to help smaller food businesses prepare to do business with them. We’d be keen to work with Lidl, which extended the Kick Start scheme to Northern Ireland from the Republic for the first time in 2018. We certainly have a broad variety of outstanding products for their customers across the island.


Being part of Kick Start will be a tremendous experience for all the participating companies and will benefit them as they seek to develop sales with other leading retailers as well as smaller independents and delis. They’ll all learn a great deal from contacts made with Lidl and the business requirements of such an important, and growing, global retailer.


Another learning experience for smaller companies in particular was provided by our participation at the unique Speciality Fine Food Fair at Olympia in London, an event which provided an opportunity to meet influential trade buyers from the UK, Ireland, Europe and the US.


Northern Ireland now has a very strong reputation for superb quality food and drink among visitors to the show. This standing was reinforced by presentations from companies from the Causeway Coast and Glens and from Mid and East Antrim Council areas, many of which met key distributors over the three days and now have important decisions to make about the best way forward for their business.


We are leveraging this interest to the benefit of smaller companies, in particular, eager to do business in Britain. Further initiatives, supported by Invest Northern Ireland, are now underway to build on our relationships there and thereby to increase awareness of the variety, innovation and quality – and sales – of Northern Ireland products in Great Britain over the next few years.


Our aim is to establish Northern Ireland as the number one source of great food and drink among retailers, caterers and, of course, consumers in Great Britain.