Foster praises innovation of 30 ‘Golden’ companies

The Kilrea firm scooped the top Northern Ireland Speciality Food Award for its unique Ballybleat goat’s milk ice cream. Mullins is the only local company to gain three gold stars, the highest rating in the awards.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster today praised the innovation and export focus of 30 local companies which have won UK Great Taste Awards.

The Minister was speaking at a reception for the award winners at Invest Northern Ireland’s office in Belfast. Thirty local companies gained over 100 gold stars for the quality, innovation and taste of their food and drink products.

Arlene Foster said: "The fact that so many companies have achieved ‘gold star’ status further enhances Northern Ireland’s international reputation for quality, original produce using the finest local ingredients.

"Winning a Great Taste Award gold star is immensely important because the awards showcase consumer-focused innovation, a key strategic theme for Invest Northern Ireland.”

The Minister added: "Food and drink processing is now one of our biggest manufacturing industries, one which is still growing in difficult economic conditions. It is worth over £3billion and accounted for 19.6% of total manufacturing sales, 16.8% of manufacturing external sales and 25.1% of manufacturing employment in 2008.

"Around 19,000 people are employed in local processing plants, located mostly in predominantly rural communities."

Arlene Foster said the industry had many natural benefits including provenance, where a product comes from, how it is processed, packaged and supplied to customers.

The Minister added: "Provenance will grow in importance as food safety and bio-security trends continue to gather momentum, particularly in Europe and the US.

"It is essential that the industry continues to be encouraged to grow in terms of product development, export sales and employment.

"A key objective for Invest NI is to assist companies to harness the business potential of existing products and to use their expertise to come up with original products that consumers, especially outside Northern Ireland, will want to purchase.

"We want many more people, nationally and internationally, to recognise, as we do, that Northern Ireland is the place for superb food and drink."