Michele Shirlow Chief Executive Food NI – Farm Week 27th Sept 2018

Collaboration is key to the success of Food Heartlands


What a privilege it was to be a guest at the biennial Food Heartland awards held recently in Armagh. It was such an inspirational even in the city and saw a host of innovative food processors and hospitality businesses celebrated and honoured during a thoroughly enjoyable evening.


There’s tremendous collaboration and camaradie throughout the food processing and hospitality sectors in the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon (ABC) council area, a real togetherness that’s focused on producing and serving superb local food and drink. I’ve long been impressed by the council’s commitment to the food and drink industry there and been keen to support the initiatives being taken to assist and promote its sustainable development.


The passion demonstrated by participating companies was impressive. And congratulations to our good friend Simon Dougan of the Yellow Door Deli on his worthy acclamation as Industry Ambassador. Simon has made a great contribution to ABC and the wider food community here through his creativity, support for local products and guidance to smaller producers.


Jean-Christophe Novelli also proved to be a very informative and inspirational special guest. The celebrity chef has become a key player in the local food and drink industry and is helping us as we seek to establish Northern Ireland as a genuinely global food destination.


We were delighted to bring him over to take part in culinary demonstrations in the Food NI Food Pavilion at Balmoral Show in 2017 and to see his restaurant at the AC Hotel in City Quays in Belfast go from strength to strength.


There’s much that deserves to be celebrated in the ABC council area especially the quality and variety of food companies, both large and small, most of which, I am delighted to report, are Food NI members. They included such impressive food businesses at Holmes Bakery, Harnett’s Oils, Yellow Door Deli, Ballylisk Cheese, Moy Park, Burren Balsamics and Quail’s Fine Foods.


We’ve also been working alongside the council on initiatives designed to promote the growth of smaller companies.


Among the most important initiatives we’ve taken for the industry was the first-ever Northern Ireland showcase at the iconic Borough Market in London’s Southwark district. As a result of this important initiative, which we hope to repeat in 2019, Ballylisk Triple Rose Cheese from Tandragee is now doing really good business with Heritage Cheese at the hugely popular market.


The best of Northern Ireland food and drink, including products from ABC companies, was also on show at the annual Tesco Taste Festival in Belfast last weekend. It was an unrivalled opportunity for people here to sample the best of local food and drink and to talk to the people behind them. The showcase continues to highlight the tremendous support that Tesco provides to our most important manufacturing industry. The event creates awareness of the quality and innovation of our food and encourages people here to shop local.


And quality local food will also be on the agenda this weekend at the Slow Food Festival in Londonderry hosted by another longstanding Food NI supporter, Paula McIntyre. Paula and other chefs, including Brian McDermott, will be showing how to use local food to create memorable dishes. There’ll also be a host of local food and drink companies with superb products to enjoy. Another super food event that’s not to be missed.