More than 200 industry leaders were briefed by Food NI today about the programme of activities planned for Northern Ireland’s first ever Year of Food and Drink.
First Minister Arlene Foster joined directors and senior managers from food and drink companies, artisan producers and chefs at the official industry launch of the year-long campaign at a breakfast held by Food NI in the Europa Hotel, Belfast. The First Minister said: “I am thrilled to be able to support this fantastic initiative which presents an exciting opportunity for us to celebrate all that is great about Northern Ireland food and drink.
“As Northern Ireland’s biggest manufacturer, the food and drink sector contributes £5 billion to the economy, it generates sales abroad in excess of £4 billion and provides employment for around 100,000 people across an extensive supply chain.
“I commend Food NI for the work they do to enhance Northern Ireland’s food and drink reputation. Events such as this give us a valuable opportunity to reflect on the importance of the food and drinks industry to our local economy
“The importance of the Year of Food and Drink 2016 cannot be underestimated and I am right behind everything this initiative is setting out to do. I believe it will be a great success and that it will make a huge contribution in the drive to grow Northern Ireland tourism to a new level.”
Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill, who also attended the event, said: “Year of Food & Drink 2016 is an opportunity to celebrate our food and drink successes and capitalise on these through trade and consumer communications. It is opportunity to harness the benefits of these successes to drive quality, innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship in our food and drink sector. It is also a chance to share the supply chain story from producers through to consumer.
The Minister continued: “As we celebrate the most important meal of the day, as part of Farmhouse Breakfast Week, this event provides the perfect opportunity to showcase the excellence of our local producers and the strength of our agri-food industry as a whole. I wish Food NI every success with their year long programme of activities that will provide a key engagement platform for our local food and drinks industry.’’
The briefing was held as part of Breakfast Month, the first theme in the extensive promotional and marketing campaign for Northern Ireland’s biggest manufacturing industry. It also coincided with Breakfast Week organised by the Home Grown Cereals Authority in Britain.
The industry briefing followed the launch last week for the tourism industry held by Tourism Northern Ireland.
John Best, Food NI Chairman, speaking at briefing, urged the food and drink industry to embrace the business and other opportunities already flowing from the Year of Food and Drink campaign.
Mr Best said: “We see this immensely important campaign as an opportunity to intensify existing efforts to showcase the outstanding taste, quality and variety of our award winning producers and chefs to local people, as well as providing opportunities to strengthen our appeal to business visitors and potential tourists to Northern Ireland.
“A major promotional drive is being co-ordinated by Food NI to create new business opportunities for local companies, both large and small, by increasing consumer awareness of our food and drink within Northern Ireland and abroad for each month next year. It promises to be a really exciting and rewarding 366 days which, I am confident, will benefit substantially local companies, rural communities and the wider economy.
“Local food and drink companies will have a key role to play in ensuring the success of this campaign. We need their backing, experience and expertise to achieve the campaign’s objectives,” he added.
Michele Shirlow, Food NI Chief Executive, said the campaign had already attracted enthusiastic support from local companies such as Tayto, major retailers including Tesco and Asda and artisans who have secured shop space at Belfast International Airport.
“Tesco has already provided a marvellous boost to the campaign by pledging a promotional campaign to showcase our fantastic food and drink worth around £500,000. The retailer already spends upwards of £500 million annually on purchasing local food and drink and has helped many smaller companies, including artisan enterprises, to develop sales here and also to win their first business with stores in Great Britain.
“Tesco will spotlight local producers and products, giving the public here an unprecedented opportunity to get to know producers and to give shoppers more opportunities than ever before to sample the quality and innovation of local products. This will increase awareness of local products and provide producers an opportunity to increase sales.
“There will be further opportunities for our companies to grow business at the BBC Good Food Show, which is being held in Belfast for the first time and is among the most successful promotional events for UK companies, and the Food NI Pavilion at Balmoral Show, which promises to be bigger and better than ever. It’s likely that upwards of 100 local food and drink companies including many artisan enterprises, will be showing and sampling products at Balmoral, which attracted around 100,000 visitors last year. Both are consumer-focused events.
“Showcasing and promoting the breadth and quality of what’s readily available here for local people and visitors and thereby boost sales is, of course, what our Year of Food and Drink is all about. The campaign is focused sharply on assisting companies to win more business.
“We will be telling people here and abroad about the products and the enterprising and creative people behind them….and also encouraging and challenging consumers to buy more local food and drink,” she added.