Posted on Monday 24 April 2017 by Ulster Business

Agri industry in good fettle says ulster bank

Pictured from left at the annual Ulster Bank and Guild of Agri Journalists economic outlook breakfast event is Richard Ramsey, Chief Economist, Ulster Bank; Cormac McKervey, Ulster Bank's Senior Agriculture Manager; Rhonda Geary, RUAS and Richard Donnan, Head of Northern Ireland, Ulster Bank.

Northern Ireland’s agri-food sector will be able to take full advantage of any opportunities provided by Brexit.

That’s according to Ulster Bank Northern Ireland head Richard Donnan who said the provenance of local produce, the quality of the supply chain, and the growing demand for food are key fundamental assets to build on.

He was speaking at the bank’s annual briefing on the sector in Ten Square Hotel, Belfast, where he pointed to the benefits of being adjacent to a large market.

“GB is a large and affluent market on our doorstep, and post-Brexit, Northern Ireland producers and processors are likely to have access to it that other countries may not. There are certainly many potential challenges in relation to how Brexit might unfold, and how agricultural policy is shaped locally and in Westminster going forward will also be crucial.

“But local agri-food companies are best advised to focus on the things they can control so that they are positioned well to capitalise on whatever opportunities emerge. That means continuing to generate great produce and products, adding value where possible, investing in R&D and innovation, and mitigating uncertainty.”

Meanwhile, the cost of one of Northern Ireland’s most iconic dishes – the Ulster Fry - has increased by nearly 3% in the last year, according to the bank.

It’s Ulster Fry Index – which tracks the cost of the constituent ingredients of the typical heaty breakfast - has climbed in line with the rate of inflation, led mostly by a sharp jump in the price of pork sausages of 7.1% and tomatoes of 6.8%.

Margarine jumped 29.2% while butter climbed by just 1.4% with eggs the only part of the dish which fell over the last year (by 1.4%).

This year’s increase in the Ulster Bank Ulster Fry Index follows a fall of 9% in 2016 and by 3% in 2015 and, like the Economist magazine’s Big Mac index which tracks the price of the eponymous burger in different regions of the world, gives an important insight into the actual inflationary pressures on consumers in Northern Ireland, according to Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey.

“Food makes up a significant proportion of household spending. Food and drink is also a key sector of the Northern Ireland economy,” he said. “So, understanding how the price of food stuffs are changing gives us some insight into both the current state of consumer finances, and also some of the challenges facing the agri-food industry.

“There are a wide range of alternative indices around the world – from the Big Mac Index to the Cappuccino Index – which are intended to put economics into layman’s terms, and to shed new light on important economic issues. Ours is the Ulster Fry Index, and it hopefully gives the man or woman on the street a clearer idea of why their household finances currently are the way they are.

Although up this year, the Ulster Fry Index is 25% higher than it was 10 years ago and 47% higher than in April 1998.

Mr Ramsey said the future holds only one path for the Ulster Fry Index: up.

“Consumers are going to feel an increasing squeeze as the price of food rises in the months ahead. And of course cafes and restaurants also have to factor in rising energy and labour costs, for instance, in the prices they charge. The National Living Wage and the rising cost of gas and electricity will be key factors in their cost-base, and the prices they charge.”



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