Economy Minister Nigel Dodds congratulated Northern Ireland’s gold winners of the UK Great Taste Awards for their innovation and quality.
Mr Dodds was speaking at a special reception, organised by Invest Northern Ireland, for the 14 small companies which gained a total of 24 gold awards in the UK’s most prestigious food industry event, held in London.
At the reception in Belfast, the Minister presented two special awards - Mrs Suzanne Smyth of Drumgooland Smokehouse, Castlewellan, the overall Northern Ireland winner, for her Hot Smoked Salmon, and the runner-up Paul Getty of Heatherlea Bakery, Bangor for his Rich Fruit Loaf.
Mr Dodds said: “Winning a Great Taste Award is clear recognition of the quality of innovation within the food industry, especially within the small business sector.
“Over a third of all manufacturing sales in Northern Ireland derive from the food, drink and tobacco sector, which shows just how important the industry is to our economy. Speciality food is an important and growing segment within the overall grocery market with sales in the UK worth £3.6 billion in 2006.
“Year-on-year the sector shows growth as consumers trade up to better quality food and drink; they are increasingly looking for innovation, for authenticity, for provenance and above all, for great taste.”
Invest NI recognises the contribution of the food industry to the health of the local economy and it has taken significant steps to increase its practical support to companies across a broad range of areas including marketing, new product development and design.
Minister Dodds said: “Invest NI’s Food division has a team of highly experienced people and an unrivalled package of support to help grow sales and business profitably in this important sector.
“The qualities of innovation, dedication to excellence and enterprise are exemplified here today in this array of exceptional food and drink from Northern Ireland."