Marks & Spencer never compromise on food sourcing with all poultry and red meat, sourced within the UK or Ireland, according to Stewart Nisbet, Head of Foods for Ireland.

Stewart was the guest speaker at the quarterly lunch of the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association and outlined how his company works closely with select suppliers, growers and farmers to manage the quality of the food they source. They have built up long relationships with many of these, several in excess of 40 years.

Stewart went on to point out that Marks & Spencer has been trading in Northern Ireland for the past 40 years and currently employs over 2000 people. Substantial quantities of products from their Northern Ireland suppliers are exported to GB stores.

M&S still plans to modernise and develop its business through substantial capital investment. It also has a very positive business developing through franchise partners in Eastern Europe, the Middle and Far East.

According to Stewart there are many opportunities for the food industry in Northern Ireland focussing on added value products and this will bring challenges for the Irish food industry. The organic market also has potential which has not been fully exploited or developed in Ireland.

The company has focussed on clarity of information for the consumer and has adopted very clear nutritional labelling incorporating both RDA and Traffic lights. The latest development is clearly identifying which products have been air freighted, allowing customers to make their own choices on these products. The aim is to become carbon neutral throughout all M&S owned operations by 2012.

An interesting and informative conclusion to the presentation was a summary of some the M&S Christmas products. Five hundred new lines are developed for the Christmas market each year. The company will sell 20,000 tonnes of mince pies and chocolate biscuits, 500,000 litres of champagne, 1,000 tonnes of Brussels sprouts and 750 tonnes of carrots and parsnips. In addition all free range whole turkeys sold on the island of Ireland this year will be Northern Irish.

The address concluded with a lively question and answer session. NIGTA President, Robin Irvine, thanked Stewart for taking the time to address the Association and for the company’s interest in the agri food sector in the province.

Two special guests were welcomed to the lunch. Fred Charters of Scotts Feeds and John McAuley from John Thompson and Sons who have recently retired from the trade but who were both active members of the Association with John McAuley having been a previous President.