Michele Shirlow For Ulster Grocer April 2018

Upwards of 12 smaller companies joined Food NI for a unique presentation of Northern Ireland food and drink at the iconic Borough Market in London’s Southwark district over St Patrick’s weekend.

And it proved to be an outstanding success for all the companies involved over one of the busiest weekends in the capital.

We had a very broad range of high quality products for shoppers, including oysters, butter, cheese, balsamic vinegar, mash vegetables and bean to bar chocolate, to sample over the four days of what is one of the most iconic food markets in London.

The companies engaged enthusiastically with shoppers and visitors from many parts of the world and especially those over for the England–Ireland rugby match. We were also warmly received by the management team at Borough Market and especially by local shoppers.

Our showcase at Borough was the latest in a series of presentations organised by Food NI in the hugely important GB marketplace. We have taken smaller producers to key business opportunities such as the Speciality and Fine Food Show in London and BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham, both events being successful for all those participating from here.

We’d certainly be very keen to do much more there but our current resources are limited. It’s essential that Northern Ireland continues to develop initiatives that will increase awareness of the quality and excellence of our food and drink in our most important marketplace.

One way we could achieve this is through a collaborative approach involving all the local councils in the presentation of our food and drink. Such co-operation would enable us to arrange a much more impactful showcase at important shows in Britain.

Our experience in arranging and hosting the hugely successful Food NI Food Pavilion at the annual Royal Ulster Agricultural Show at Balmoral Park enables us to stage the best possible showcase of our superb food and drink.

Britain is, after all, our most accessible market and one that’s very easy for smaller companies in particular to service. We need to see more shippers and food service organisations identifying with the range of food and drink that Northern Ireland now offers.

What such presentations also offer is support to local supermarkets keen to list our products there. It makes it so much easier if shoppers there are aware of our food and drink and seek out the products in their own stores.

We really do need one major showcase at these important events. Food NI certainly has the expertise, industry knowledge and dedication to market our food and drink in Britain very professionally and successfully.

And we have working relationships with other bodies working in food and drink and on tourism. For instance, Food NI is currently supporting and advising Mid and East Antrim on the development of a new food and drink network that covers processors and the hospitality sector throughout this important region.

This role includes helping smaller food and drink processors across the region to explore business opportunities with major supermarkets here as a stepping stone to business in Britain. With our ambition to have Northern Ireland recognised as one of the top food regions in the UK increased collaboration is the watch word.