Jo Whitfield, chief executive for Food at the Co-Op will be the keynote speaker at the 23rd Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association’s (NIFDA) Annual Dinner – the largest annual gathering of the Northern Ireland food processing industry.
The event, which is run in partnership with Danske Bank, will be held on Thursday, October 17 in the Hilton Hotel, Belfast.
Over 250 people are expected to attend the dinner, which is recognised as an opportunity for food and drink industry leaders to discuss how the industry and wider food chain can address challenges and achieve successful growth.
Speaking ahead of the dinner, Michael Bell, executive director of NIFDA, said: “These are challenging times for our local economy and for the industry – just weeks away from Brexit and the risk of a potential ‘no-deal’.
"NIFDA continues to lobby the UK Government on behalf of our members, working on a number of committees to put forward the case for our food and drink sector, which overall employs in the region of 100,000 people.
Food and drink is the largest manufacturing sector in Northern Ireland and has continued to grow at a time when many other industries are contracting.
"Whilst we cannot ignore the challenges and uncertainty surrounding Brexit, our focus remains on producing high-quality food, ensuring continuity of supply for our customers and adapting to evolving consumer expectations.
“Few companies demonstrate that ethos better than the Co-Op, and we are delighted to have chief executive for Co-op Food, Jo Whitfield, as our keynote speaker.
"Jo has driven the Co-Op’s Food strategy reset and under her leadership, the Co-Op has maintained a strong focus on ethical, local sourcing.”
Ciaran Rafferty, corporate banking manager at Danske Bank, added: “Food and drink is, and will continue to be, an essential sector for the Northern Ireland economy and the themes of this year’s event– integrity and sustainability – is particularly relevant.
“We are increasingly seeing our customers devoting significant time, research and investment into sustainable food and drink, with an emphasis on the traceability and provenance of ingredients.
"Consumer knowledge is increasing in this area. The most innovative food and drink companies are responding to this by making trusted connections with consumers, embracing the growing desire among shoppers to research the true origin of the food they buy.”