Good News tends to come in threes, or so I was told growing up. This week certainly brought two pieces of great news for food and drink industry here.
Firstly, Dale Farm, secured first place in the Virtual Cheese Awards Creamery Mature Cheddar category for Dromona. A huge achievement, but no surprise. Dale Farm beat off competition from all parts of the UK.
In my opinion, Dromona cheese is one of our food gems and is made locally with local milk. The taste is amazing, and I hope that the team at Dale Farm are able to leverage recognition and advantage from winning that title.
The second piece of good news was the progress on plans to relax liquor licensing laws. This is potentially an important boost for the local hospitality industry and for local alcohol producers.
Many of our Food NI members are heavily dependent on the hospitality sector and are only just beginning to see rays of light flickering from the recent lifting of the lockdown.
It’s worth remembering that pre-lockdown the food industry generated £5 billion for the local economy and employed around 100,000 people across the extensive supply chain. And hospitality contributed over £1 billion for the economy and provided employment to around 60,000 people in various roles.
The proposed changes to licensing, if they are approved by the Northern Ireland Assembly, could also have a positive impact on the wider food industry especially smaller suppliers of dairy, meat, baked goods, vegetables, spirits, beers and cideries dependent upon hotels and restaurants including our Taste of Ulster members.
The proposed changes to licensing laws involve lateropening hours for pubs and Easter trading arrangements.Distilleries and breweries could also be enabled to sell spirits, ciders and beers from their own premises to the public in limited circumstances and certain major events will be able to sell alcohol produced locally. This would be a major benefit to our local alcohol producers.
We have supported the hospitality sector in the long running campaign for the changes agreed by the Executive. Our support is based on the conviction that the changes would be good for the industry, tourism and the economy. We would also like to see the lockdown lifted from pubs which don’t serve food.
It looks like hospitality and many food and drink companies will have to depend on support from local consumers certainly in the short-term. I’ve been encouraged, therefore, by the increasing innovation by specialist stores here and their dedication to local produce. It is encouraging to see many in the hospitality sector innovating, such as The Parsons nose in Hillsborough which has branched into retail with the wonderfully named Parsons Pantry, the French Village Food Store in Belfast and Granny Shaw’s Trading Post in Ballymena. I can’t wait to visit.
There are indications too that more consumers, especially those in their twenties and thirties are now opting for the quality, low carbon footprint and safe food and drink provided by such stores. Smaller producers and store owners like Indie Fude have also been quick to adapt to changing consumerdemands such as online deliveries and bespoke hampers.
These stores are also proving popular with the growing numbers of home cooks due to the lockdown. They are being regarded increasingly as the best source of quality ingredients and for advice on how to use the products in cooking. They have long been a tremendous source of experience and guidance on meal preparation. These locally owned delis andstores also deserve greater support from the community.
As a community, I believe we should give priority to the preservation and growth of local enterprises in food and drink and hospitality. Not only will it help safeguard these key industries and the overall economy to bounce back faster but I am confident we will all benefit from cooking local, quality food with low food miles.