Heartland Pumps for Ambitious Smaller Companies

What a tremendous pleasure and great privilege to invited to the celebrations for Great Taste Award winners organised by the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council last week. Food and drink companies from the borough collected 64 gold stars for 16 products

The council has been doing a magnificent job supporting and promoting the area’s food and drink companies, both large and small over many years, within the imaginative Food Heartland framework. I am delighted too that the Food Heartland will also be playing its part in next month’s Taste the Island promotional programme.

This promises to be a really exciting initiative by Tourism Ireland, Failte Ireland and Tourism NI which should provide significant benefits for our two most successful and biggest sectors, food and drink and hospitality Businesses throughout the council area have all benefitted enormously from the networking and the extensive programme of other promotional activities organised by the council in association with companies. This has led to the Food Heartland becoming a model for many other councils. We’ve been privileged to work with the council in developing the Food Heartland.

As well as the Food Heartland, Food NI has worked with other councils to promote local food and drink here. We’ve seen impressive initiatives by Derry City and Strabane, Mid and East Antrim and the Causeway Coast and Glens and the Lough Neagh Partnership.

The companies taking part in the impressive Food Heartland event collected some 64 coveted gold stars in the annual competition run by the influential UK Guild of Fine Food.

And two of the participating companies, Little Bakehouse in Dromore and Craic Foods of Craigavon are also in the running for the top awards, the overall Golden Fork for the supreme champion and the Northern Ireland Regional Fork, will be announced on Sunday. I know Suzanne Taggart of the Little Bakehouse, Paul Clarke of Craic Foods and the six other Northern Ireland businesses will all have everything crossed. Craic Foods has an impressive track record in Great Taste and also has two original products shortlisted in the upcoming Blas na h Eireann Awards in Dingle in October.

I share the view of the council’s Deputy Lord Mayor Margaret Tinsley, a keen and dedicated supporter of the food and drink industry here, that the awards reflect the focus of ambitious companies here on quality and their inspirational endeavours is “driving forward the standard of local produce on global platforms”.

We also need to encourage and support them to explore and exploit opportunities abroad and to help many others to join them in making a greater impact in key markets especially Great Britain, our closest and most accessible market, which will increase in importance as the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looms, a scary prospect for many industries here.

We are all only too aware what this will mean if border controls are set in place and tariffs on foodstuffs introduced. I hope that fears and alarming predictions about such a withdrawal from the UK prove unfounded.

I look forward to joining the council again next year in celebrations to recognise even greater achievements in Great Taste by many more local companies. I know that Food Heartland will continue to support them with imaginative initiatives that will inspire them to develop and market original products that will capture the imagination of the Great Taste judging panels. The Food Heartland can certainly count on Food NI’s experience and expertise in ensuring the success of such initiatives.