Michele Shirlow for Hospitality Review August/ September

The Great Taste Awards has once again showcased the premium quality, variety and innovation underpinning the food and drink industry here. This year’s results were announced at the start of August and featured around 300 gold stars for more than 70 local companies including an impressive 15 companies collected the coveted three stars for the outstandingly tasty products.

Two companies, Hannan Meats of Moira and Belfast’s Thompson’s Family Teas, both gained multiple three stars and are now among the most successful producers of quality food in the UK and Ireland.

The Great Taste Awards are immensely important in signalling the excellence of food and drink readily available here for local hospitality businesses and retailers. They also demonstrate to tourists and other visitors that Northern Ireland is a great destination for superb food and drink. Visitors spend around a third of their holiday budget on food and drink so, it’s essential that we market the outstanding food and drink here as widely as possible.

The Open at Royal Portrush, the biggest golf championships to be held here for five decades, in 2019, will be another golden opportunity to highlight the quality of our food and drink to the many thousands of golf fans coming to watch the event. There’ll scarcely be a better opportunity to strengthen Northern Ireland’s position on the global stage as a great destination with wonderful food and drink.

Food NI will be working with our members as well as other stakeholders, especially Tourism Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland, to ensure that the entire Northern Ireland community benefits from such an opportunity, the most significant for the industry since the hugely successful Year of Food and Drink in 2016.

The Open, of course, is globally significant due to the scale of media attention, especially television, it will surely attract and we need to seize the business opportunities that The Open will offer to enable visitors to Taste the Greatness of our food and drink.

Northern Ireland has the experience of the Year of Food and Drink to draw upon as we plan our contribution to The Open in association with the other bodies involved.  While we’ve also a talented and dedicated team at Food NI, additional resources will be required to enable us to drive the food and drink engagement

Successes in international and national competitions such as UK Great Taste, the World Steak Challenge and World Spirits Awards are visible evidence that our food and drink is among the world’s best. It was heartening to see 3 regions from Northern Ireland reach the final of the all island Foodie Destination competition, namely Armagh Food Heartland, Derry City and Strabane and Mid and East Antrim.

I was honoured then to hear of Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink being shortlisted recently in the highly influential International Travel and Tourism Awards, a marvellous accolade from the global tourism industry. We are among esteemed company being in the final 4 with Catalonia European Region of Gastronomy, TXOTX! by Gipuzkoa Provincial Council and A Taste of West Cork Food Festival.

The International Travel and Tourism Awards is a unique opportunity to acknowledge the success of national, regional and city tourist boards as well as outstanding private sector companies and individuals and the final stage will see our food and drink industry and the professionalism of Food NI and its longstanding support for our buoyant industry highlighted at a gala event for over 500 leading personalities in the international tourism industry later in the year.