The manufacturer’s products are now available 220 Colruyt supermarkets throughout Belgium, one of the biggest retailers in the country, following six months of negotiations.
“This is hugely significant business for us in what has been an immensely challenging year, especially due to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns that have made travelling to international markets very difficult,” said Food Stories founder Michael Heaslip.
“I am delighted to have secured this listing because Belgium is a foodie nation with a claim to the greatest chips in the world and a world-renowned craft beer culture.
“I believe there is a great opportunity for other Northern Irish companies in Belgium able to navigate Brexit challenges in particular.”
Food Stories’s latest supply deal builds on the producers’ previous export success in the region.
“Belgium was one of the key European markets that I identified in a major export strategy around five years ago,” Heaslip added.
“The new contract there is based on market research and contact building over the past two years in particular.
“This work there led to an initial order for Pinkfinch crisps with Okay Compact, a convenience format developed by Colruyt city centre stores in Brussels and other urban areas. The product proved popular among shoppers keen on healthier snacks and led to a meeting with buyer for dry goods for Colruyt supermarkets.”
Support for expansion
Food Stories’ expansion into overseas markets has been supported by business development agency Invest Northern Ireland.
“The business has also been possible due the expansion of our resources,” Heaslip said. “Matthew Gaston, for instance, has joined as operations director.
“His experience and expertise has allowed us to navigate successfully the challenges of Brexit.
“We now have a warehouse and transport hub that we use in Belgium to facilitate deliveries to the 220 stores. Such a presence on the ground there has been crucial during the pandemic.”
Food Stories’ overseas success followed a recent uptick in exports to the EU reported by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).
However, while exports were up in February after a dramatic 76% plunge in the aftermath of Brexit, they were still down 41% compared to the previous year.
Exports to the UK’s largest market – Ireland – fell by more than two-thirds (-70.6%) to £90.5m. The dairy and meat sectors were worst impacted, with sales of milk and cream to the EU down 96%, and chicken and beef down by more than three quarters.
Commenting on these results, Dominic Goudie, head of international trade at FDF, said: “UK businesses continue to struggle with inconsistent and incorrect demands at EU borders and small businesses have been hardest hit due to the collapse of groupage distribution into the EU.
“New EU import requirements for composite products entered into force this week, adding even greater complexity, cost and uncertainty for UK exporters.
“It is essential that the EU-UK Partnership Council and its Trade Specialised Committees are convened to urgently address problems with the implementation of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement to ensure small businesses are not shut out of trade by this trade deal.”