The market town of Ballynahinch, Co. Down will shortly play host to a unique conference  bringing artisan and smaller local food companies in Northern Ireland (NI) together with government policy makers, opinion formers and key decision makers to examine their role in Northern Ireland’s food sector.

The ‘Local Food: Making Small Producers Part of the Big Picture’ conference is part of a research and business development programme with small local food companies undertaken by Down District Council in partnership with the Ulster Business School, University of Ulster.

Food is Northern Ireland’s largest manufacturing sector and a key export industry, as well as being a core part of the tourism experience.

The key objective of the conference is to identify practical programme and policy actions that can assist the development of smaller local food companies, enabling them to play their part in the big picture of NI’s successful and growing food sector across local, export and tourism markets.

Speaking about the Conference, Down District Council Chairman, Cllr William Walker said, “We are very proud of being able to assist our local food producers through current  business support programmes led by Down District Council in the SEED (South East Economic Development) region.”

Cllr Walker continued, “Small producers are very important to the local economy, providing the taste and the experience of the locality. This conference builds on our current business development work by bringing small food producers together with key government policy makers and food sector representatives. Based on research to date we aim to identify further improvements and assistance to ensure smaller producers are part of NI’s successful and growing food sector.”

Craig Blaney of local sausage suppliers The Good Little Company, Finnebrogue, Downpatrick said: “We are really looking forward to getting together with other small companies at the conference to find out what others here and in other countries do well, and getting the opportunity to inform the policy makers how small companies are part of the big picture.”

Under the European Union ‘LOCFOOD‘ (Local Food as An Engine for Local Business) programme, Down District Council and Ulster Business School have been working with partner councils and development agencies from nine different European regions to identify improved ways of assisting artisan and small food producers.

Combining keynote speakers and workshops with input on best practice in other European regions, the conference will focus on identifying new market opportunities in the context of the current ‘Going For Growth’ Northern Ireland agri-food strategy; current food tourism strategy development, local economic development and future rural development programmes.

Learning from other regions will be an important element of the conference. LOCFOOD partners from Norway, Sweden, Greece and Slovenia will be providing input  on best practices in policy and business support identified from their regions. Speakers from Wales and Scotland will also brief participants on developments in food  policy in other UK countries.

The one-day conference will be held on Friday, June 13, 2014 in Ballynahinch Market House, Ballynahinch, Co. Down.