QUICK ADJUSTMENT AND WIDER HORIZONS WITH LEDU'S HELP LEDU, the Small Business Agency, in conjunction with the Industrial Development Board, has had its hands full in helping small food manufacturing companies get established and expand. Increasingly, it's looking at developments outside of the Province, especially since the involvement of the multiples, which have pledged to increase their local sourcing targets from £200m to £290m by 2002. Core to LEDU's activities is business excellence/benchmarking which assesses how companies match up to nine criteria and determines their strengths and opportunities. LEDU's Donal Durkan says: "We use this as a business analysis tool so we can show how a company is positioned within a sector. It's a means for us to challenge people coming in with business plans so we can guide them and make them aware of the risks, issues and benefits. We work to lower the level of risk where possible." The agency also looks at how small companies can diversify into, for example, foodservice. It recently set up a pilot Food Service Sector Programme which is workshop and consultancy based, and leads to a detailed action plan for each company involved. Durkan says several companies have secured business as a result. Mourne County Meats, for example ­ which had worked exclusively with the retail market but never foodservice ­ developed a cooked round bacon which has aroused interest from companies making blt burgers. Another helping hand from LEDU comes in the form of category management workshops so that when companies approach buyers they are not just transactional selling but adding to the breadth of the category. LEDU also advises companies on becoming internet and computer literate, on building a web presence, and helping them move towards e-commerce. The agency's raison d'etre is to develop a sustainable, profitable export market that adds value to the local economy. Durkan says: "What has happened in the last 18 months is what would have happened in 18 years in the UK and there's been a major learning curve as companies have had to adjust quickly." {{Z SUPPLEMENTS }}