Invest Northern Ireland (INI) is a regional business development agency that supports new and existing businesses in Northern Ireland to grow and compete internationally. INI also promotes Northern Ireland as a UK/European location for investment and a destination for education from boarding schools through to post graduate study. The organisation works across various sectors and the Food and Drink industry has been identified as one of the key drivers of the economy, with Northern Ireland’s Food and Drink being the region’s largest manufacturer and a leading exporter – with products exported to over 70 countries. foodHQ interviewed Sheethal Rishi, Senior Business Development Manager at Invest Northern Ireland, based in Dubai handles the Food and Drink, Hospitality and Design sectors with a remit for UAE and Oman.
foodHQ: What are the things that Northern Ireland food companies are recognized for?
Sheethal Rishi: Northern Ireland is best known for its pure, natural, quality produce and is considered a world leader in food traceability and security. NI food and drink also regularly features in global awards for outstanding taste including the UK Great Taste Awards, the World Cheese Awards, the International Wine and Spirit Competition Awards and the Blas na hÉireann, Irish Food and Drink Awards. UAE's largest food import from Northern Ireland is dairy products, especially powdered milk and cheese. My role is to work with industry contacts in the UAE to facilitate exports for Food and Drink companies from Northern Ireland to the UAE and Oman. INI helps companies identify focus markets and provides valuable sector advice, followed by comprehensive in-market support. This could take the form of a scoping exercise, retail market analysis, business introductions, competitor analysis, and showcasing opportunities at trade shows and conferences to profiling the companies’ product at events. Companies also receive significant marketing support, where we aim to boost their brand exposure.
foodHQ: How do you assess the food market?
Rishi: Northern Ireland food exports are up 60 percent with dairy products driving much of the growth. 38 percent our clients supported over the last few years are in retail outlets. Some of our top outlets being Spinneys, Waitrose, Lulu, Choithram. 18 percent supply to food service, to the likes of Emirates Flight Catering, major hospitality groups and full-service restaurants. The full service restaurant in the UAE is expected to grow to USD16 Billion by 2021 giving further scope for expansion for companies from Northern Ireland. A report by Euromonitor International predicts that by the year 2020, the most important categories within retail sales of packaged food will be dairy, confectionary, and rice/pasta/noodles. We also see a growing awareness among consumers on the impact of natural and organic foods to our diets. Consumption patterns are changing and the industry now is working on premium menus by introducing natural, organic ingredients and ‘free-from’ options. This in turn has created more demand for such products from Northern Ireland. We also encourage our companies to register and participate in the Expo 2020 opportunities. Expo is gearing up to serve 85,000 meals per hour and 200 + food outlets with various catering operation types. Most of our producers are small and medium enterprises, yet there is plenty of scope to make the most of the opportunities that Expo 2020 will bring.
foodHQ: How was Gulfood 2018?
Rishi: INI has been exhibiting at Gulfood since 2008 and has been growing ever since. Indeed, there were a record 17 companies at this year’s Gulfood in the Dubai World. Trade Centre and for the first time this region of the UK had 2 stands, one in the World Food Hall and the other in the Dairy Hall. There was a good mix of new to market and seasoned exporters. Our presence in the Dairy pavilion also generated significant sales on the very first day of Gulfood 2018 than the entire show last year. Overall it was a good platform and we are looking forward to converting the leads generated into substantial partnerships and sales over the coming months.