Craigavon to become agri-food ‘centre of excellence’

At the launch of the Craigavon Agri-Food and Drink Forum are Neil Irwin, Co-founder of Irwin's Bakery, Dawn Cann of Avondale Foods, Michelle Shirlow, CEO of Food NI, Mayor of Craigavon, Cllr. Colin McCusker, and Brian Irwin, Co-founder of Irwin's Bakery
At the launch of the Craigavon Agri-Food and Drink Forum are Neil Irwin, Co-founder of Irwin's Bakery, Dawn Cann of Avondale Foods, Michelle Shirlow, CEO of Food NI, Mayor of Craigavon, Cllr. Colin McCusker, and Brian Irwin, Co-founder of Irwin's Bakery

A new think-tank to boost the agri-food and drink industry in Craigavon has been set up aimed at developing the area as a ‘centre of excellence’.

The business forum will help boost export, innovation and entrepreneurship within the agri-food and drink sector.

At the launch of the Craigavon Agri-Food and Drink Forum are Michelle Shirlow, CEO of Food NI, Mayor of Craigavon, Cllr. Colin McCusker, and Nicola Wilson, Head of Economic Development in Craigavon Borough Council

At the launch of the Craigavon Agri-Food and Drink Forum are Michelle Shirlow, CEO of Food NI, Mayor of Craigavon, Cllr. Colin McCusker, and Nicola Wilson, Head of Economic Development in Craigavon Borough Council

And the forum includes some of the leading businesses in this sector.

It is co-ordinated by Craigavon Borough Council in conjunction with Food NI and the Northern Ireland Regional Food Programme, the newly-established ‘Craigavon Agri-Food and Drink Forum’.

Companies such as Avondale Foods, Moy Park and Irwin’s Bakery will play a leading role in the forum, which has been developed by the council in response to the Government’s ‘Going for Growth’ strategy.

The aim of the forum is to provide a platform for local producers, SMEs, business leaders and key stakeholders - such as Invest NI, NIFDA, CAFRE and Southern Regional College – to work in partnership to promote and encourage the development of Craigavon as a ‘centre of excellence’.

At the launch of the Craigavon Agri-Food and Drink Forum are Dawn Cann of Avondale Foods, Michelle Shirlow, CEO of Food NI, and Mayor of Craigavon, Cllr. Colin McCusker

At the launch of the Craigavon Agri-Food and Drink Forum are Dawn Cann of Avondale Foods, Michelle Shirlow, CEO of Food NI, and Mayor of Craigavon, Cllr. Colin McCusker

The new forum was officially launched on Thursday at the first of a series of themed seminars.

Craigavon Mayor Colin McCusker said: “The Craigavon Agri-Food and Drink Forum is an exciting development which will provide a significant boost for the entire sector, from bakers and fruit/vegetable growers and distributors to artisan beer and soft drink producers. The borough’s agri-food and drink pedigree is the best in Northern Ireland and the forum will provide the ideal environment for businesses and stakeholders to help harness the exporting expertise of local companies.

“It will create excellent networking opportunities for young entrepreneurs to ensure the industry is strengthened for generations to come.”

Thursday’s seminar explored the borough’s agri-food and drink strengths and weaknesses, with the aim of developing a food brand/identity for the area. The session included an introduction to the forum from Michelle Shirlow of Food NI and an address from keynote speaker, Dawn Cann of Avondale Foods, a Craigavon-based company which is one of the largest chilled suppliers in the UK.

Michelle Shirlow of Food NI said: “As a multi-billion pound industry which exports worldwide and employs almost 100,000 people throughout Northern Ireland, it’s vital we continue to ensure the full potential of our agri-food and drink sector is maximised. Craigavon is very much the food heartland of Northern Ireland and we are confident the new forum will help ensure the borough’s strength in this sector continues to develop in the future.”

“By providing young entrepreneurs with direct access to market leaders such as Moy Park, Avondale Foods and Irwin’s, we can harness their enthusiasm and help provide them with expert advice and specialist insight on what it takes to be successful in the sector.”

The next three forum workshops will take place on 7th October 2014, 15th January 2015 and 5th March 2015. For more information about the new Craigavon Agri-Food and Drink Forum and the themes of the workshops, please contact Louise Cushnahan, Regeneration and Economic Development Officer, louise.cushnahan@craigavon.gov.uk , 02838312572.