Great Taste brings top food buyers to Northern Ireland

Top buyers from UK and Irish retailers including Harrods were in Belfast last month to experience the best of local food and drink.

They were here with many of the leading food writers from Britain, Ireland and further afield to judge upwards of 700 products from 125 companies bidding for gold in this year’s influential Great Taste Awards, an event, sponsored by Invest Northern Ireland, being held in Belfast for the first time ever.

Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister, Arlene Foster is pictured with Peter Hannan (L) of Moira based Hannan Meats, which scooped the Regional Golden Fork award at the Great Taste Awards and Andrew Cavana, Fortnum & Mason.

Hosting visits by retailers and foodservice organisations in Britain, Ireland, other parts of Europe, as well as the Middle East, the US and China is an immensely important element in Invest NI’s marketing strategy by our Food Sector and Trade teams to assist the faster growth of our £4.5 billion food and drink industry.

Supporting local retailers and foodservice organisations

Over the past year we’ve set up a series of one-to-one meetings, virtually on a weekly basis, between local companies, both large and small, and buyers from all the main UK and Irish retailers along with groups from other parts of Europe, the United Arab Emirates and China.

We also support these buying opportunities by arranging visits by leading food writers, who can influence buying decisions by shoppers, and also by providing material on our companies and their products to key international publications. The objective is to build awareness internationally of the quality, innovation, provenance and safety underpinning local food.

Trade Development Programme

As well as bringing buyers here to meet our companies, Invest NI operates a trade development programme for local food and drink companies that’s probably among the UK’s most comprehensive. What it offers companies is preparation through workshops; expert guidance on development of export strategy for individual companies; mentoring from experienced exporters; and market support particularly from Invest NI staff and advisors abroad.

It’s a programme that includes visits to key export markets and Northern Ireland Naturally stands that we organise in many of the most significant food shows including SIAL in Paris, ANUGA in Cologne, Gulfood in Dubai, Hotel and Hospitality in Shanghai, Fancy Food in San Francisco, as well as IFEX, Birmingham and Speciality Food in London.

These business opportunities are identified internationally by a dedicated food marketing team within Invest NI that operates within an overall strategy to transform Northern Ireland into “an economy characterised by a sustainable and growing private sector, where a greater number of firms compete in global markets and there is growing employment and prosperity for all ”.

Local Successes

The success which local companies are now experiencing from our initiatives also influenced the Agri-Food Strategy Board’s Going for Growth – Investing in Success action plan for the industry’s international growth in the period to 2020.

This success includes Dale Farm, our biggest dairy business, securing significant orders in China and Russia, Antrim Hills Spring Water Ballyclare supplying artesian spring water to foodservice organisations in Shanghai, Irwin’s Bakery gaining orders for traditional Irish breads and biscuits in the Middle East and China and Fane Valley, Armagh signing export deals in markets such as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Algeria. White’s Speedicook in Tandragee has also succeeded in selling its porridge oats and oat snacks to China, Russia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Our food and drink industry is currently experiencing unprecedented growth in the Middle East especially in the United Arab Emirates involving smaller companies such as Kettyle Irish Foods - Lisnaskea, Mash Direct - Comber, Heavenly Tasty Organics - Omagh, Kestrel Foods - Portadown, and Free-ist - Belfast.

For companies, both large and small and across all sectors, the benefits of international success are varied, the most important being greater wealth and better employment opportunities here. Exports can also lead to improved returns for our farms.