Dale Farm boss appointed as new NIFDA chairman

Dale Farm group chief executive Nick Whelan has been appointed as the new chairman of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA).

Whelan takes over the position from Brian Irwin, who is also the chairman of Irwin’s Bakery, and for a two-year term.

ABP Northern Ireland managing director George Mullan has been appointed as vice-chairman.

An imminent challenge

Speaking after his appointment, Whelan said he took on the position during “extremely challenging times” for the industry and renewed calls for an agri-food marketing body.

“Our workers in the food industry – our food heroes – have been working harder than ever to ensure that the nation continues to have access to safe, nutritious food,” he said.

“Companies have had to adapt to an ever-changing situation, responding rapidly to fluctuations in demand and transforming factories by implementing social distancing measures.

“The industry has demonstrated its resilience and its ability to innovate, but it remains a very difficult time. The loss of what we call the ‘foodservice’ market – restaurants, hotels, cafes, pubs, canteens – has led to serious stock and cash-flow issues for many food manufacturers.

Any short-term growth in demand from the grocery retail sector has not come close to making up the difference, and the government needs to step in and support firms before it is too late.

“Northern Ireland needs a strong food and drink sector if its economy is to recover from Covid-19 and face the imminent challenge of Brexit.

“We need a capital expenditure support scheme now, and grants should be given to support firms in investing further in automation, innovation and skills.

“Furthermore, the establishment of a food export marketing body is long overdue and should be an urgent priority for the Northern Ireland Executive.

“We have a world-class food and drink industry that feeds some 10 million people across these islands and beyond.

“I look forward to taking up the role of NIFDA chairman and will continue to champion Northern Ireland food and drink as we face our present challenges and look to future opportunities.”