First Minister, Arlene Foster MLA and the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA today said they are more determined than ever to support and grow the food and drink industry in 2016.
The Ministers attended an event in the Ulster Hall showcasing a range of local produce as the opener for the Year of Food and Drink 2016.
Formally recognising the array of awards and accolades achieved by the food and restaurant sectors in Northern Ireland, First Minister, Arlene Foster said: "The quality of our food is a major reason why people come to Northern Ireland. Food tourism already generates over £350million per year to the local economy, but I believe there is significant room for further growth.
“Tonight’s event gives us the opportunity to unashamedly restate that Northern Ireland’s food and drink heritage is not just unique, but among the finest tastes and flavours to be found anywhere in the world.
“As the next 12 months of food and drink experiences unfold, there will be no better time for locals, visitors and global markets alike to enjoy a true taste of Northern Ireland.
"The Year of Food and Drink 2016 is a very exciting initiative and hugely important for Northern Ireland. As we showcase, advertise and enjoy our finest and tastiest produce all through the year, I believe Northern Ireland will perform very well as the destination of choice for food and drink."
The deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness said: "Food and drink is an important element of our tourism proposition and global pitch. This £2.75million initiative will assist everyone involved in the food and drink industry to take our influence to another level. It is an important element of our ambition to build and develop a £1billion tourism industry by the end of the decade.
“We have a wealth of high quality, safe and wholesome foods available to the processing, food service and retail sectors. Our produce has world leading traceability and safety controls and is produced on farms with a strong track record in quality assurance systems and high animal health and welfare standards. This makes our produce very attractive to the global market.
“We must drive quality, innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship which will increase employment capacity in the food and hospitality sectors. I urge everyone with a role to play to do everything they possibly can to support this initiative to develop, enhance and promote the food and drink product at home and abroad.”
Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Jonathan Bell added: “More and more people are choosing Northern Ireland as a business and tourism destination and we have continued to see the tourism sector grow, sustaining jobs and creating new business opportunities. Food is a major reason why people come here and tourists spend over £350million per year on food and drink alone. Northern Ireland is a foodies’ heaven and the Year of Food and Drink provides an excellent opportunity for both locals and visitors alike to experience and learn more about food and drink and perhaps try something new which reflects the different regions here.”
The Year of Food and Drink initiative, with a different theme for every month, is aimed at putting food and drink at the heart of the visitor experience.
The initiative is being led by Tourism Northern Ireland and involves a wide range of partners and key organisations in the food and drink industry.s