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A new report published this week has highlighted the true value of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink industry. It reveals that the sector generates £4.9bn value added in Northern Ireland, with Food and Drink supporting 113,000 workforce jobs through its operations, its purchases and the spending it generates.

- Food and Drink generates £4.9bn value added in NI, supporting 113,000 workforce jobs

With the vast majority of Food and Drink firms based outside of Belfast, the report observes that the sector is key to maintaining a regionally balanced economy and plays a vital role at the heart of rural communities across Northern Ireland.

Food and Drink is also revealed to be Northern Ireland’s second largest goods exporter, with 77% of total Food and Drink produced in Northern Ireland being consumed outside the region. Significantly, the value of the sector’s exports is substantially greater than imports, so Food and Drink acts as a key driver of economic growth.

NIFDA Executive Director Michael Bell says the report demonstrates the need for the Northern Ireland Executive to urgently deliver a processor capital grant to ensure the industry can continue to compete. “We have a huge opportunity to grow, given the right support,” Michael said. “Over the past ten years we have seen regional competitors like Scotland perform much better in terms of gross value added. Securing our growth and future proofing the industry will require a new strategic approach from the Northern Ireland Executive – one that champions our industry and gives us the tools we need to succeed.

“To further drive innovation, boost productivity and win value adding new business we need to level the playing field with our competitors. We are the only region on these islands without a processor capital grant. Wales, Scotland and England already have schemes in place with support rates of between 20-40%. The Republic of Ireland earlier this year announced a €100 million capital investment scheme with a 30% support rate for RoI food manufacturing companies.

“Coupled with the lack of a Northern Ireland food export marketing body, the industry here has effectively had to operate with both hands tied behind its back. The time is now for this stark competitive disadvantage to be addressed.”

Michael Bell says the report also demonstrates how Food and Drink will be key to driving Northern Ireland’s economic recovery from the pandemic. “We can see in real terms the strength of Northern Ireland Food and Drink, and the sector’s importance to the local economy,” Michael said. “The sector has continued to support good jobs throughout the region even while facing the once-in-a-generation challenge of the pandemic. We have been particularly resilient over the past year and, as government looks to rebuild the economy post-Covid, a strong Food and Drink industry is vital to get our economy moving once again.

Infographic summary of key findings 2

“As the statistics clearly demonstrate, Food and Drink remains one of Northern Ireland’s key economic assets. We have the potential to grow even further, create even more sustainable jobs and secure Northern Ireland’s economic recovery, and with the right support we will deliver.”

Rob Heron, Partner, EY commented, “As outlined in our findings, the Food and Drink sector is a core part of the NI economy because of its scale, resilience during economic crises, regional impact and its capacity to innovate. Its contribution to such a wide variety of sectors including construction and hospitality to name just two, have a ripple effect across almost every other sector in the NI economy, making its overall impact significant and far-reaching.”

Commissioned by Northern Ireland’s Food and Drink trade bodies, and produced by EY, Food for thought: The Food and Drink industry, an inclusive sector at the heart of Northern Ireland quantifies the industry’s contribution to the economy as a resilient, innovative and export-driven sector.

View the report and key findings using the links below:

Food for Thought – EIA of the Food and Drink sector in NI

Infographic summary of key findings