Suppliers have given a cautious welcome to the roll-out of Asda's local sourcing initiative in Northern Ireland.

Asda said that it was now ready to act on its pledge to develop its local supply base, having consolidated its position since entering the grocery market in the province last July.

Paul Farrell, Asda's NI trading and marketing manager, said: "Our aim is to increase our NI supply base by 30%. This will include niche food companies, which can provide the innovative, added-value products Asda requires, and we'll also look for micro-suppliers, who initially may only supply the Asda store within their immediate area."

The retailer, which has 13 stores in the province, has also entered into a partnership with economic development agency Invest Northern Ireland to expand the number of local suppliers it deals with. The parties will co-host a 'Meet the Buyer' conference in May.

Michael Bell, executive director of suppliers' group the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, said that Asda's move was good news for the local supply base, especially smaller speciality producers.

He said: "This will be important in protecting local tastes and offering choice. However, retailers must not underestimate the cost pressures facing suppliers. Some of it will have to be passed on to the consumer."