First Minister Peter Robinson praised Willowbrook Foods in Killinchy for its “outstanding achievements” in markets outside Northern Ireland.
Mr. Robinson was speaking at the official opening of the company’s new £5.5 million factory which processes salad bags, convenience products, wet salads, prepared vegetables and stir fry products for leading retailers and foodservice clients particularly in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
Mr. Robinson said: “Willowbrook Foods is a shining example of the export-focused, added value-led and entrepreneurial business which the Northern Ireland Executive is keen to showcase and encourage as part of our strategic focus in the draft Programme for Government on exports and market-led innovation as crucially important drivers of economic growth.
“Over the next four years, we hope to see a 15 per cent growth in exports and look to ambitious and progressive companies such as Willowbrook Foods to continue to pursue business opportunities outside Northern Ireland for both existing and especially new added-value products sourced in Northern Ireland for sale at a premium abroad.
“Our food industry, currently generating more than £3.7 billion annually for the local economy, £2.7 billion of which is sold outside Northern Ireland, continues to grow through its sharp focus on exports and innovative products.”
Mr. Robinson met John McCann, Managing Director of Willowbrook Foods, and other members of the management team before touring the new 44,000sq ft factory on the family farm site at Killinchy. The factory includes a new cooking area where the company produces its premium range of mash potato and vegetables, along with other par cooked vegetable ranges.
Mr McCann, commenting on the company’s investment, said: “This factory more than doubles the company’s production capacity and is enabling us to meet the growing demand from key customers for our existing range of products. It is enabling us to build on the success we have achieved in selling 85 per cent of our products to customers outside Northern Ireland.
“In addition, the investment is providing scope for new products being developed by staff in our new Food Innovation Centre in liaison with both existing and potential customers in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
“The Innovation Centre and the new factory together enable us to respond quickly and flexibly to market opportunities for new products. Our success to date has been based on the close working relationships that we have developed with customers and our ability to respond nimbly to opportunities arising from the demands of consumers.”
The company, which employs around 250 people at the Killinchy plant and also in an operation in Newtownards, supplies multiple retailers’ customers such as Co-Operative Food, Musgrave Retail Partners and Hendersons.