Investment in innovation is essential for the continued growth of the food sector, according to Enterprise Ireland.

The comments come ahead of its first Food Innovation Summit which takes place today in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork.

The event aims to put the spotlight on the innovation capability within the Irish food industry.

Last year, Enterprise Ireland saw exports in the food and sustainability sector grow by 23% to €16.2 million.

The sector accounted for half of all exports by EI backed companies.

"Today's event aims to raise awareness among the Irish food industry of the importance of investing in innovation to strengthen productivity and achieve and sustain competitive advantage in global markets," he said.

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EI data shows that companies in the food and sustainability sector now account for 29% of total employment in EI supported companies.

Last year, 63,858 people were employed in companies that EI supports in the sector, up 3% on 2021.

These companies spent €209 million in R&D activities in 2022.

"Irish food businesses are a key contributor to the Irish economy, supporting thousands of jobs, and delivering sustainable prosperity throughout Ireland," said Simon Coveney, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

"The sustainable growth of the food sector in Ireland hinges on increased investment in innovation, and the Government is committed to assisting Irish businesses in that vision," he added.

Minister Coveney said Ireland is delivering "major strides" in food innovation and is well-placed to assess global food security challenges.

"The global food system requires innovative and out-of-the-box solutions to address food security challenges and climate change," he said.

"New technologies and new approaches to international competitiveness are required that place a greater emphasis on innovative, flexible responses to rapidly changing market demands," he added.

Sustainability is a key theme for today's Food Innovation Summit.

Panel discussions will take place on the topics of sustainable, healthy nutrition and sustainable food manufacturing, with contributions from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Teagasc.

Enterprise Ireland is also hosting an inaugural Food and Drink Start-Up event today co-located and run concurrently in Páirc Uí ChaoimH, Cork, entitled 'Scaling Through Innovation'.

It aims to inform and inspire current and future food and drink start-up companies through a focus on innovation and sustainability.