The Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) has appointed Nick Whelan as the new Chair of its board. Mr Whelan is Group Chief Executive of dairy cooperative Dale Farm and takes over from immediate past Chair Brian Irwin. He will hold the position for two years. George Mullan, Managing Director, ABP Northern Ireland has been appointed as Vice Chair.
Speaking after his appointment, Nick Whelan said:
“These have been extremely challenging times for all of us. Our workers in the food industry – our food heroes – have been working harder than ever to ensure that the nation continues to have access to safe, nutritious food. Companies have had to adapt to an ever-changing situation, responding rapidly to fluctuations in demand and transforming factories by implementing social distancing measures.
“The industry has demonstrated its resilience and its ability to innovate, but it remains a very difficult time. The loss of what we call the ‘foodservice’ market – restaurants, hotels, cafes, pubs, canteens – has led to serious stock and cashflow issues for many food manufacturers. Any short-term growth in demand from the grocery retail sector has not come close to making up the difference, and the government needs to step in and support firms before it is too late.
“Northern Ireland needs a strong food and drink sector if its economy is to recover from Covid-19 and face the imminent challenge of Brexit. We need a capital expenditure support scheme now, and grants should be given to support firms in investing further in automation, innovation and skills. Furthermore, the establishment of a food export marketing body is long overdue and should be an urgent priority for the Northern Ireland Executive.
“We have a world-class food and drink industry that feeds some 10 million people across these islands and beyond. I look forward to taking up the role of NIFDA Chair and will continue to champion Northern Ireland food and drink as we face our present challenges and look to future opportunities.”
Michael Bell, Executive Director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) and coordinator of the report said:
“Covid-19 has challenged the UK food and drink industry in a once in a generation way. Food manufacturers have been working harder than ever to ensure that the nation is fed – with companies having to adapt to an evolving situation at a rapid pace, responding to changes in demand and implementing social distancing measures. Within a short period of time, firms have reengineered and reimagined processes, requiring a significant level of investment. Put simply, the industry has demonstrated both its ingenuity and its necessity in these unprecedented times.
“Just as the Government has taken courageous and rapid decisions to address the challenge of the pandemic, we now need to deliver a ‘pathway to recovery’ for UK food and drink. Industry stands ready to work with Government on this, and our proposals published today outline actions Government and industry can take to future proof the sector. In the short term we need to protect our capacity in food production, ensuring our domestic farming, processing and food service sectors are able to emerge from this crisis intact.
“In the longer term, the Government needs to reassess its policy on food and drink. For too long, successive governments have been content to witness continual decline in self-sufficiency in food. The strain that Covid-19 has put on the food chain has exposed the inherent weaknesses in this approach, and we now have an opportunity to reverse that trend. It will require serious investment, but the economic and societal gains would be immense. The UK currently has a trade deficit of some £24billion in food. Assuming 30% of this could be produced efficiently in the UK, a balance of trade benefit of up to £8billion could be realised.
“The UK’s food and drink industry and the wider ‘eating ecosystem’ of other sectors it supports – farming, transport and logistics, cold stores, packaging, catering, food service and retail – contributes £460billion to the national economy, employing millions of people across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The ‘path to recovery’ proposals published today provide the opportunity to build on that success, and deliver new gains for society across the UK as we emerge from this pandemic.”
The UK food industry “Building a Path to Recovery” document has been endorsed by the below organisations. A copy can be downloaded here