Irish eyes look to Europe

Food producers from Ireland had a significant presence at IFE, with 28 companies taking part in the show.

Their participation was hosted by Invest Northern Ireland, the region's business development body, and the meat sector was represented by Ulster Pork and Bacon.

Maynard Mawhinney, food director for NI Invest, says: "We have made a conscious decision to sell to England and at least half of the companies here at IFE want to sell into Europe."

He added that the producers were responding to the market with two-pronged attack - healthy choices and innovative packaging that would enable people to eat on the hoof.

"People also want food that can be cooked in packaging, which looks both attractive and upmarket. What we operated 10 years ago no longer works."

Mawhinney also believes that Northern Ireland's agri-food sector has to reposition itself, as food represents opportunities for the future.

"Around 23% of industry is represented by the manufacturing sector in the region, with the two biggest being red meat and dairy. Both are moving towards increasing specialisation," he said.

The companies were at IFE as they wanted to sell more product to the UK and the nearby markets on the continent, such as Belgium and France, Mawhinney said.

William Sprott, which operates one of few small bacon and ham curing factories, showed its dried ham and bacon products, which have a good shelf life even when held in 'air' conditions and, when cooked, very little shrinkage or exudate is noticed.