Drinks group Norbev’s sales fizz by 6% as profits triple

Ballymena firm posts annual results after £300,000 investment in upskilling its staff

Norbev drinks maker
Norbev's managing director Shona Blythe welcomed Invest NI's Niall Casey (left) and Des Gartland to the firm's Ballymena plant (Kelvin Boyes)

Ballymena soft drinks manufacturer Norbev has seen its sales rise by more than 6% in the last year, following a 48% uplift the year before.

It comes as Norbev, formerly known as Northern Bottlers, invested close to £300,000 in upskilling its staff of 89 (of whom 71 work in production and the other 18 in administration).

The company - set up in 1919 when it washed, labelled and corked glass bottles by hand at an old laundry business - currently manufactures beverages and soft drinks for customers including Aldi, Suntory, Talking Rain and Capri Sun.

It exports 98% of its products to markets outside Northern Ireland, including Britain, the Republic and the Netherlands, as well as to the US.

Figures for the year to December 2023 show that Norbev’s turnover grew to £38.2 million from £35.9 million in 2022. In 2021 its sales came in at £24.4m.

Norbev, formerly known as Northern Bottlers, has operated from its current site on Ballymena's Railway Street since 1961
Norbev, formerly known as Northern Bottlers, has operated from its current site on Ballymena's Railway Street since 1961

Its retained profit more than tripled from £779,000 in 2022 to £2.4 million last year, and nett assets at the company now stand at £6.2 million.

Norbev, which has two listed directors in James Harkness (60) and Shona Blythe (46), moved to its current site on Ballymena’s Railway Street in 1961 and welcomed its first bottling contract with Coca Cola in the early 70s.

The company also blends and bottles drinks for customers including pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, which also makes Lucozade.

Managing director Shona Blythe said: “In response to a business transformation, we identified the need to significantly invest in the development of our staff to increase our competitive edge.

“Invest NI’s support has been fundamental in enabling us to meet this need and become an employer with an encouraging employee culture.

“It also offered us one-to-one supply chain coaching which gave us a fresh perspective on our current supply chain and helped us to identify areas where we could improve efficiency, reduce costs and drive our productivity.”

Ballymena soft drinks manufacturer Norbev has reported a 48 per cent increase in sales
Ballymena soft drinks manufacturer Norbev has reported a 6 per cent increase in sales to £38.2m

During a visit to Norbev, Niall Casey, director of skills and competitiveness at Invest NI, said: “We’ve worked with Norbev for over 17 years to support its continued growth and development. Our most recent support has enabled the company to improve efficiencies and increase productivity through creating a more highly skilled workforce.

“Norbev is a great example of how an investment in skills makes a business more likely to succeed, with it already seeing a significant increase in turnover, as well as an improvement in company morale.”

Des Gartland, Invest NI’s north eastern regional manager said: “It’s great to visit Norbev’s facility to see first-hand how this investment has positively impacted the company’s performance.

“The results from this investment are not only great for the local economy, but also position the company as a valuable employer in the Mid and East Antrim area.”