A Merry and Local Christmas from Food NI

Michele Shirlow

Chief Executive

Food NI

It’s that time of year again, a time for new beginnings and to look at what the next 12 months hold especially for Food NI and our work to assist the growth of the local food and drink industry.

I’m not one for making personal resolutions. What I would certainly like to see is faster growth, particularly for our member companies, both large and small, in the year ahead.

And we are committed to doing everything we can within our resources to support the industry as it seeks to grow sales here, in Britain and further afield. I know that our most important and vibrant industry has what it takes for greater success in all these markets.

As our exit from the EU draws ever closer, we will need to step up our promotional activities in Britain, still the most important marketplace, to ensure a high level of awareness of the quality of our products and to expand substantially retail and foodservice outlets for these.

We also still have much work to do here to help our companies strengthen sales in Northern Ireland. We need to continue our endeavours to ensure many more local shoppers opt for our superb food and drink as a first choice.

They can count on supreme quality, outstanding taste and complete transparency, the latter becoming increasingly important with consumers. It was interesting then to hear of Northern Ireland’s leadership in technology that ensures transparency and counters food fraud challenges.

Other food producers, both large and small and across all categories, are likely to see supermarkets requiring transparency systems in the year ahead. In fact, 2018 could be the year when transparency becomes a key business driver here.

Ireland Craft Beers (ICB) in Belfast announced in November that it had created the world’s first fully transparent beer in collaboration with arc-net, another Belfast business, and Mourne Mountains Brewery in Warrenpoint. Transparency is certainly something every local food and drink business will have to explore.

Arc-net introduced ICB to blockchain technology which enables products to be tracked and monitored from the production of ingredients through the brewing process to bottling and distribution.

Blockchain, as I understand it, provides easy access to production data at every stage of the process. Consumers are then able to use their mobile phone to scan a barcode on a product to find out everything they need to know about it, even the people involved in making it.

The experience of food companies like ICC of blockchain technology could give us an additional competitive edge especially in markets such as Great Britain. We are also extremely fortunate in expertise available at the Global Institute for Food Security, established by Prof Chris Elliott, at Queen’s University Belfast and now headed by Prof Nigel Scollan, both acknowledged experts on food safety and advisors to the UK government on fraud and risks.

I am sure there will be opportunities in the year ahead for companies here to tap into the knowledge and experience of the institute and other expert businesses about how best to help their business prosper by responding to the growing demand for total transparency.