Official grants needed to help food industry after pandemic, say campaigners

Official grants would get Northern Ireland’s struggling food and drink industry back on its feet after the coronavirus pandemic, campaigners have said.

Cafes, restaurants, hotels and pubs representing 30% of the industry are currently closed, the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association added.

It called on the Government to provide financial support to firms facing rising costs.

Chairman Brian Irwin said: “The rise in demand from retail in March/April 2020 has fostered an assumption that the food and drink industry is riding the crest of a wave at a time when other sectors are struggling.

“In reality, producers are entering a period of great difficulty.”

Brian Irwin
Brian Irwin

He said food service businesses – restaurants, hotels, cafes, pubs and canteens – represent 30% of the market, adding: “That market has all but disappeared and any increase in demand from retail does not come close to making up the difference.

“It has been a seismic shock for the industry and inevitably manufacturers, many of them SMEs, now face serious stock and cash flow difficulties.”

He said the Government needed to “step up to the plate” and support producers before it was too late.

“Support in the form of grants should be given to allow firms to invest further in automation, advanced manufacturing, innovation and skills.

“A capital expenditure support scheme is urgently needed to future-proof the industry and should be an immediate priority.”

Food and drink is the biggest manufacturing industry in Northern Ireland – accounting for 100,000 jobs locally and feeding 10 million people across the UK, Ireland and Europe.

Mr Irwin added: “For Northern Ireland to recover from the economic consequences of Covid-19 – and be able to face the future challenges of Brexit and recession – it needs a strong food and drink industry. That requires action now.”