Co Tyrone meat processing giant Dunbia is set to target emerging export markets including China as it creates 209 new jobs as part of a £27m expansion.
And managing director Jim Dobson poured icy cold water on long-running speculation that Brazilian meat multi-national Marfrig had tried to take the firm over.
Dunbia is adding the new jobs over the next three years – aiming to expand its export sales.
Average salaries will be around £16,000.
And the company is building a new meat boning hall and upgrading its production lines to help facilitate that extra demand.
The Dungannon firm – which supplies many of the UK and Ireland’s big supermarkets including Asda and Sainsbury’s – currently employs almost 1,000 staff working in the slaughter and de-boning of cattle and sheep at its Co Tyrone base.
Mr Dobson said the company was continuing to grow its business “in these tough times”.
“We are growing our supermarket business, and we are also building a future and looking at the export markets more,” he said. “We need to be in on the big markets, where people are prepared to pay for the quality of food we produce.”
Mr Dobson said he hoped the firm would start selling beef across the Atlantic to the US, following the lifting of a ban on Irish beef earlier this year.
And he’s also targeting big growing global markets such as China.
But wider concerns over the negative impact a weak euro could have on agriculture exports have yet to hit the firm – with most trade being done within the UK.
“It’s not a big issue. With sales to mainland Europe it is an issue, but it’s a smaller end of the business,” said Mr Dobson.
“Our main business is in the supermarkets in Great Britain, as well as European supermarkets.
“And where we can also get into niche markets outside of that – somewhere we can get a quality product, at a quality price.”
Work has already begun on redeveloping the firm’s existing Dungannon plant, with development of the new meat boning hall soon to follow.
In its latest accounts, Dunbia Group edged close to a £769m turnover for the year ending March 2014 – up more than £40m on the previous 12 months.
The entire group employs some 4,000 people across a total of 13 sites in the UK and the Republic.
Helping launch the new jobs, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said the new boning hall “will help the company achieve improved butchery efficiencies and economies of scale, while the installation of new production lines using the most modern automated retail butchery will increase retail packing efficiencies”.
“The meat sector plays an important part in our economic success and the sector has continued to grow, despite the downturn,” she said.
“This kind of investment is significant, not just for the future long-term sustainability of Dunbia, but also for its positive impact on the agri-food supply chain and the red meat sector as a whole.”
Dunbia has received £2m from Invest NI towards the job creation.
By John Mulgrew