Farm Week Column for 8 November 2018 – Michele Shirlow Chief Executive Food NI

Chancellor missed golden opportunity to boost growth of two key industries

I was more than a little bit disappointed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s lack of action in the Budget on pleas from the hospitality industry for action on VAT and Air Passenger Duty, two measures which would boost tourism revenues and economic development.

There may, of course, be additional funding in the future for the industry from the City Deal proposals and on the return of the Executive and Assembly at Stormont. However, that is cold comfort while VAT in hospitality in the Republic is 13.5 percent and there is no Air Passenger Duty there. A recent report estimated that this has cost Northern Ireland’s airports one million visitors in the last 12 months.

The industry requires the sort of support in the short to medium term that a significant reduction in VAT for hospitality and the removal of APD would provide.

Tourism has been developing strongly over the past five years and is set to benefit substantially from The Open at Royal Portrush next year. It’s a vibrant industry that benefits the entire community here and is now reputed to be the world’s biggest and most dynamic and projected to double worldwide by 2030.

In addition, tourism has a very positive impact on the local food and drink scene because visitors generally wish to experience what destinations have to offer in terms of food culture. And we have some of the very best food and drink available anywhere in the world. Large and small companies here operate within a short supply chain and to the highest standards.

Our food industry is already contributing substantially to most parts of Northern Ireland by developing innovative taste experiences, creating employment and increasingly seeking business opportunities in Britain, the Republic of Ireland and further afield.

Our companies have a tremendous track record in major national and international awards, the most recent being the Great British Sausage Awards which saw Hannan Meats in Moira and Finnebrogue Artisan in Downpatrick, both Food NI members, successful.  Denis Lynn also won the Innovation Category in the Director of the Year Awards 2018 for his development of the revolutionary Naked Bacon. Naked Bacon is an e-number and nitrite-free bacon. And there were well deserved UK quality awards last week for Avondale Foods, Clandeboye Yoghurt, Jawbox Gin, Prep House Sauces and TS Foods.

The quality and innovation of our food and drink products regularly attract plaudits from leading international chefs. It’s essential that we build on this international standing by imaginative initiatives. A good example of the sort of initiative that would benefit the hospitality and food industries here and recently attracted international attention was Food on the Edge at Galway.

Around 50 of the world’s top chefs spoke at this two day symposium which had 450 delegates, and their deliberations will have a far reaching impact on food preparation and production across the Island. Discussions and debate that takes place at Food on the Edge will shape actions across the broadest spectrum of industries especially food production and health. The conference provided essential market research and consolidated the country’s developing global reputation as ‘The Food Isle’.

This important ‘think in’ was based on a recognition that chefs everywhere have a responsibility to be at the forefront of food education, whether in the context of fine dining, street food, or in hospitals and schools.

I know that chefs in Northern Ireland (many of whom travelled down to the conference) are also conscious of their role in creating original dishes using the superb ingredients now readily available here. These include high quality local products in dishes that also reflect concerns about diet and health.

It would be tremendous investment in the future for the entire food and hospitality industry – and for Northern Ireland’s image abroad – if such an influential event could be hosted here. All of the chefs who attended spoke with passion and conviction on their vision for the future of food and how we can make things better on a local and global level. Food NI would certainly be keen to be part of such an initiative.