Seventeen Irish food and drink firms are joining Bord Bia's Tesco Supplier Development Programme today. The aim of the programme is to support the companies in maintaining a listing in Tesco in Ireland and overseas. This marks the third year of the programme and since its launch in 2012, 33 companies have gone through, recording €16m of sales to Tesco stores. Over a quarter of this was in the UK. 

Green Saffron - a family business based in Cork, which specialises in fresh whole spices for use in the home and professional kitchens - is one of the programme's success stories. Arun Kapil, the founder of the business, says that Green Saffron now has national coverage through Tesco and recently launched a brand new range of sauces. The company is now keen to expand and it looking at European and North American markets. He admits that small businesses can find funding difficult, adding that his company recently hired a financial controller to help them down the finance path. Mr Kapil says that while companies believe their success lies with getting on to a supermarket's shelves, he feels it is even more important in getting this produce off those shelves and into people's baskets. 

Aidan Cotter, Bord Bia's chief executive, said that companies need every support available to them, including the Supplier Development Programme. He says it is very important for companies as they try to build scale to have access to new markets and the programme operates on three levels of markets - local, national and export. As well as Green Saffron, its success stories include Glenisk yogurts and Glenilen Farm produce, two companies which continue to expand and grow, Mr Cotter adds. He says that 120 food producers will take part in this weekend's Bloom Festival, a great example of the next generation of companies, which will add to the €10 billion worth of food exports from Ireland in future years.

MORNING BRIEFS - The Small Firms Association, whose national conference takes place today, will hear a call for radical changes in finance, taxation and public procurement. Its chairman AJ Noonan says small businesses are being starved of working capital and long-term finance, and big changes are needed to increase employment in the sector.

*** Unemployment has fallen less than expected in the first three months of the year. According to figures yesterday from the Central Statistics Office, the change from 12.2% to 12%, failed to hit a forecast 11.8%. The unemployment rate fell for the eighth quarter in a row from a high of 15.1%. The number of employed people rose by 1,700 from the previous three months, the CSO said. 

*** One51 said yesterday it would consider a flotation of the business within two years. After its restructuring, the group said it needs to sell various outside investments, which include a 23% stake in NTR.  Its chief executive Alan Walsh, speaking at One51's annual shareholders' meeting yesterday, said the company would only be in a position to float when it was able to concentrate fully on its plastics and waste divisions.