Michele Shirlow for Hospitality Review Jan 2018

We’re gearing up for another busy year at Food NI and determined to build on the achievements of 2017, another tremendously successful for the food and hospitality sectors here.

An exciting programme is already taking shape that we see Food NI continuing to support these immensely important sectors which are making such a significant contribution to the local economy. We could do even more for the sectors, especially in Great Britain, with much greater resources.

We’ll be continuing to take the message about the quality of our exceptional food and drink to consumers, as well as potential tourists, in Britain and the Republic of Ireland. The close relationship between food, hospitality and tourism is now widely recognised.

And collaboration between the three sectors, I am delighted to report, is now much greater than ever before. We will continue to encourage such co-operation for the benefit of all aspects of the food and hospitality sectors here in the year ahead.

We’ve taken the message about the quality, taste provenance and wholesomeness of our food and drink to major shows in Britain including Speciality and Fine Food in London and BBC Good Food in Birmingham.

Our encouragement for companies to take part in prestigious events such as the UK Great Taste Awards and Blas na hEireann Irish National Food Awards, furthermore, helps demonstrate the quality of our food and drink in our key markets, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Last year, for instance, our companies lifted most of the leading awards at Blas in Dingle.

The companies gained the ‘Best New Artisan Product’, ‘Best New Product’, the Shelf-life marketing bursary. In addition, the top awards in the Chefs’ Larder was won by three Northern Irish free-range egg producers, one for the second year In succession. We now have the best free-range eggs on the island of Ireland!

As well as highlighting our food and drink, participation in such exhibitions also supports tourism in showing what visitors can expect from Northern Ireland as a food destination. The variety of food and drink readily available here, and we are ready to step up our work on behalf of Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland.

Food NI will continue to promote and broker such collaboration through initiatives, such as our Chefs’ Steering Group, designed to inspire restaurants and cafes across Northern Ireland.

Our aim is to continue to help them showcase our food and drink on their menus to a much greater extent, to use such products in creating original dishes and also in working with producers, especially smaller enterprises, in the development of new products to expand market opportunities both here and abroad.

The sectors are also benefiting from the rapid growth in tourism which continued last year. More visitors are staying longer and taking time to enjoy what our restaurants and hotels have to offer in food. During the first nine months of the year, for example, there was a six per cent rise in rooms sold in hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs, equating to 107,000 additional rooms compared with the same period last year.

What this all adds up to is a strong springboard for even faster growth for the sectors in 2018.