A Downpatrick-based food manufacturer is creating 125 jobs through a £17m investment in a bacon processing plant.

Finnebrogue makes products such as sausages and burgers for UK retailers including Marks and Spencer, Asda and Waitrose.

It began making nitrite free bacon for a mass market in 2018.

The British Meat Processors Association said nitrites are used in curing meats to help preserve them and add flavour, and they are authorised additives.

Company chairman Denis Lynn said: “We’ve been looking at how to make bacon without nitrites for 10 years.

“We began this brand last January with zero turnover, a year later, we’ve turned £15m which is phenomenal.

“The retail sector is £900m in bacon, we fully expect to get 8% of that,” he added.

What is processed meat?

Processed meat has been modified to either extend its shelf life or change the taste and the main methods are smoking, curing, or adding salt or preservatives. Simply putting beef through a mincer does not mean the resulting mince is “processed” unless it is modified further. Processed meat includes bacon, sausages, hot dogs, salami, corned beef, beef jerky and ham as well as canned meat and meat-based sauces.

About 30 of the jobs have already been filled. The rest are expected to be created by 2022.

Invest NI said the posts would generate £3m a year in salaries for the local economy. Invest NI’s Brian Dolaghan said: “The product has been welcomed by top food scientists as a significant advancement in food safety and has already found a market among health-conscious consumers.”

This investment comes at a time of uncertainty for the agri-food sector which has been cited as one of the sectors likely to be most affected by Brexit.

Chairman Denis Lynn said: “I don’t really care about the politics because it’s always going to be uncertain. Tariffs could be an issue with regards to raw materials that we would bring in, but we will worry about that when it happens,” he added.

“It could affect 2 products out of 1,000 different products so we aren’t really that bothered about it.”