Michele Shirlow – Farm Week Column 21st June 2018

Not to be missed Country Fair turns spotlight on our delicious food

Twenty products from 14 Northern Ireland companies will be sampled in a major challenge organised by Delicious, the UK’s leading consumer food magazine, as part of the Irish Game and Country Fair at Shane’s Castle, Antrim this weekend. It’s immensely encouraging to see so many local businesses, mostly smaller enterprises, bidding to impress a panel of expert judges and win the regional heat. This weekend’s entry is the biggest ever from Northern Ireland.

Success in Northern Ireland offers the prospect of significant coverage in a publication that’s widely respected by top chefs and foodies especially in England. It’s a tremendous opportunity for the winner to raise their profile and increase awareness in our single most important marketplace.

The country show is, of course, among the most successful in the UK and Ireland and was featured among the top food shows in the British Isles by The Daily Telegraph. The Delicious judging will be one of the highlights of what promises to be another exceptional event, one not to be missed.

Food NI is keen to see as many entries from here in such national competitions which enable our companies to benchmark their products against competitors from Britain and Ireland.

How utterly brilliant it was great to hear of three Northern Ireland people shortlisted  and two outright winners in the BBC Food and Farming Awards. Jonathon Cuddy of Ispini charcuterie was shortlisted for best product; Peter Hannan’s was recognised in the annual BBC Food and Farming Awards in the shape of the prestigious Derek Cooper Award for Outstanding Contribution to the UK Food Industry – a well-deserved honour. BBC Cook of the year went to Helen Boyce for her outstanding work in Hydebank with The Cabin initiative.

And it’s also a massive boost for the local food industry in what is simply our most important marketplace, one which will become even more significance, especially for smaller food and drink companies here, post-Brexit.

Peter, a proactive Food NI Board Member, is prospering in Britain through his inspirational dedication to innovative meats and superb customer service.

Peter’s success in Britain, particularly in high profile awards, has raised the profile of Northern Ireland as a source of deliciously different, wholesome and safe products with heritage and provenance. He’s a twice winner of the supreme title in the UK Great Taste Awards and has won more gold stars in the challenge than any other company in the UK and Ireland.

In addition to his fast growing business base in Britain, Peter has also successfully introduced a great many smaller companies to the tremendous opportunities there. He’s opened some very important doors for them.  He has become an inspirational mentor to a host of start-up and longer established enterprises.

And there was good news too for the Henderson Group, our biggest food wholesaler and a major retailer, which gained a gold award for its focus on employees in the influential Grocer Awards. Henderson’s Spar and Eurospar retail network is helping many smaller producers on the road to success.

While we’re clearly making a significant impact in food circles in Britain, there’s no room for complacency. It’s essential that we continue to build Northern Ireland’s very positive profile as a great food and drink location.