By Debbie James

Confidence in the Welsh food sector is booming, evidenced by the launch of 100 new products at Wales’ largest international food and drink trade event.

Six hundred food producers, buyers and food industry professionals attended BlasCymru/TasteWales at Celtic Manor, Newport, to network and achieve business growth in sector worth £6.8 billion to the Welsh economy.

Global buyers from as far afield as Qatar, Dubai and Canada came together with Welsh producers to explore the opening of new markets and to secure international trade deals ahead of Brexit.

The two-day event opened with an announcement by Wales’s Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, that the industry would receive £22m of new investment to help it grow post-Brexit.

The money will fund support to facilitate business growth opportunities and innovation, she said.

The industry is targeting a 30 per cent increase in turnover by 2020, an ambition that had “very nearly’’ been reached according to Andy Richardson, chairman of the Food and Drink Industry Board.

“We don’t sit back in Wales and wait for things to happen, we believe in driving the future,’’ he insisted.

“Someone once told me that the best word in marketing is ‘new’ and we have 100 new products being launched at TasteWales.’’

The products had been created as a result of an “absolute passion’’ by producers for listening to their customers and understanding the future shape of the industry.

Wales has set a goal to grow the food and drink sector by £1.5billion by 2030, he added.

But to succeed, producers will need to take account of changing attitudes to food, he suggested. “It is not just about how we consume food going forward but how we take on nutrients.’’

Mr Richardson said it was important from an economic perspective that Wales is promoted as a food nation.

Agriculture, food processing, food service and retail is worth £20.5 billion a year to the Welsh economy and employs 217,000 people.

In 2018, 73 per cent of exports went to the European Community – even higher for sales of red meat.

Overall, sales are forecast to increase buy £29 million in 2019, said Mrs Griffiths.

“New export business has been secured in Europe, the Middle East and Asia,’’ she said.

Referring to Brexit, she added: “Wales is an outward and welcoming nation that is open for business. Our ambition to co-operate across borders is stronger than ever.’’

She pointed out that the level of support the Welsh Government makes available for increasing exports is “generous’’ compared to other countries.