This week sees the return of Balmoral Show and as a Platinum Sponsor, M&S will showcase the suppliers who bring the very best of regional food to its stores here.
Steve McLean, Head of Agriculture at M&S said: “We firmly believe that great food comes from great ingredients, produced by the best farmers and growers and this year our regional focus at Balmoral will include recognition of our local producers, some of whom have been supplying us since we opened our first store in Northern Ireland over 50 years ago.”
Northern Ireland is a major supply region for M&S with beef, lamb, produce, eggs and chicken produced not only for Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland stores, but also for many stores across the UK and further afield.
Now with 21 Northern Ireland stores, 10 of which are dedicated Food outlets, M&S food is growing from strength to strength. Its commitment to quality hasn’t wavered. Steve McLean continued: “Our greatest strength is the M&S reputation for high quality goods. As a business, M&S is totally committed to ensuring its foods are the finest anywhere in the world and we work closely with our local supply base to jointly develop products, an approach that leads to close working partnerships.
“Sourcing locally is really important to us and Northern Ireland is one of our biggest supply regions with 11 direct suppliers and around 1,600 farms producing quality produce for us.”
Several local suppliers have been central to the M&S success story and some have enjoyed relationships with the company as far back as the 60’s. These include – literally – the bread and butter of M&S’s local business: Hovis Belfast (previously Ormeau Bakeries) and Dromona Quality Foods.
When the Belfast store opened in 1967, customers would have been delighted to see that the bread in M&S was Ormo – made by Ormeau Bakeries (now Hovis Belfast). Such was the strength of the Belfast-baked breads that the Irish bakery line was trialled around the UK, with huge success. Now Hovis provides a variety of traditional bread including Northern Ireland favourites such as soda and potato farls, buttermilk pancakes and delicious wheaten breads.
There is a strong history and heritage between M&S and Hovis. Hovis has grown alongside M&S as they opened new stores over the last five decades and also supply products to M&S stores throughout the UK, as well as experiencing a phenomenal growth over recent years.
Steve continued: “The support of local companies has been key to our success in Northern Ireland. It has always been our policy to stock local produce where possible and Hovis are the perfect example of how successful this arrangement can be. Their expertise and knowledge of the market and their ability to work with us to provide our customers with the highest quality products cannot be beaten. Our longstanding partnership bears witness to both our supplier commitment and the quality of their product.”
M&S has sourced butter and cream from Dale Farm in Northern Ireland since 1989. Dale Farm supplies naturally spreadable butter to M&S for the whole of the UK. A vertically integrated supply chain has allowed Dale Farm to develop this product specifically for M&S. From producing feed for specially selected herds, producing a milk with softer fat, right through to developing a special production process, Dale Farm are able to control all the elements which go into making this product a great tasting butter that spreads straight from the fridge.
Co. Armagh based Avondale Foods was started by two brothers, Harry and Derek Geddis, who began growing vegetables for distribution to local retail outlets. The company started supplying lettuce to M&S in 1968 and is now one of Northern Ireland’s biggest agri-food success stories.
Traditional coleslaw signalled a pivotal moment in Avondale’s relationship with M&S, in 1998 this product was given nationwide distribution and today Avondale is the sole supplier of M&S coleslaw and potato salad. As well as salads, Avondale also supplies porridge, mushrooms, croutons, stir fry sauces and noodles which are manufactured in the company’s custom-built plant.
Steve continued: “The extremely high standards of innovation at Avondale Foods have been critical in achieving our pre-eminence in the chilled salad business. We currently buy some 25 million pots of coleslaw and potato salad from Avondale each year.”
Dungannon based Linden Foods has been supplying M&S with beef and lamb since 1997, sourced from 1,200 farms across Northern Ireland. Over the last 12 months Linden Foods has supplied M&S with product from 75,000 cattle and 66,000 lambs. Linden Foods have also developed a unique integrated Wagyu supply chain that will supply 3,500 cattle a year to M&S.
Downpatrick based Finnebrogue Artisan has been working in partnership with M&S since 2002 to provide delicious market leading products. Since 2009 the company has crafted all of the retailer’s premium sausages. In recent years the company received widespread recognition for the ‘Love Sausage’ which was developed to coincide with Valentine’s Day. The business has now expanded into innovative plant-based products manufactured at their newest state-of-the-art manufacturing site in Co. Down, the largest of its kind in Europe.
Steve continued: “Finnebrogue is continuously making changes to its product lines to meet customer needs and trends. By implementing a world class approach to new product development and originality, it has successfully maintained its name for good quality and pioneering products.”
Family-owned Skea Egg Farms Ltd, based in Dungannon in County Tyrone, started to supply M&S in 1997 in just seven stores. Today, Skea Eggs can be found in M&S stores across the UK and Ireland, and in Hong Kong – the business now supplies 121.6 million eggs to M&S per year.
Steve continued: “At M&S, we are totally committed to animal welfare and believe that the better the standards of welfare and care to the birds, the better the quality end product. Customers are able to buy free range eggs from us, knowing that we only source from trusted local farms that treat their hens well.”
A family based potato supplier, Glens of Antrim Potatoes, produces an extensive range of potato varieties for the high street retailer. In 2011, the Cushendall based business secured a multi-million pound contract to supply potatoes to M&S stores across the island of Ireland. Now, Glens of Antrim is producing an extensive range of 12 potato varieties for M&S, each with its own characteristics when it comes to taste, texture, appearance and versatility.
Steve concluded: “In order to ensure consistent quality and high product standards, all our Northern Ireland potatoes are sourced through one local supplier, Glens of Antrim. Together we are driving sustainability in potato growing through the Indicator Farms Project which focuses on reductions in energy, water and pesticide use along with improving soil health.
‘We are delighted to be expanding our relationship with our supply base in Northern Ireland and will continue to show our commitment to making sure our suppliers receive all the support they need to craft superior products for our customers.”