Northern Ireland food and drink has star quality

Thirty food and drink companies from across Northern Ireland have gained over 100 gold stars for local produce in the annual UK Great Taste Awards.

The awards - organised annually by the Guild of Fine Food and sponsored and promoted locally by Invest Northern Ireland - were announced at the weekend following the rigorous judging of products from almost 5,000 companies in the UK, Republic of Ireland and other parts of Europe.

The awards are graded into three, two and one star categories based on quality, taste and innovation. The highest accolade per product that the panel of expert judges can award is three stars.

One Northern Ireland company, Mullin’s Ice Cream of Kilrea, Co Londonderry, achieved the top rating of three stars for its recently launched goat’s milk ice cream with vanilla. Mullins also gained two stars each for its pistachio ice cream and its chocolate sorbet products.

There were gold awards for many of Northern Ireland’s leading food companies including: Avondale Foods, Craigavon; Dale Farm, Belfast; Crossgar Foodservice, Crossgar;  Finnebrogue, Downpatrick;, Fivemiletown Creamery, Co Tyrone; Kestrel Foods, Craigavon; Linwoods, Armagh; McErlain’s Bakery, Magherafelt; Punjana Tea, Belfast; Suki Tea House, Belfast and White’s Oats, Tandragee.

Hannan Meats, among the most successful meat companies, gained seven stars for beef, lamb and bacon. Fivemiletown Creamery in Co Tyrone also gained a total of seven stars for its various handmade cheese products.

Among newcomers winning gold stars this year were both large and small companies including: Armagh Cider, Armagh; Hannan Meats, Craigavon; Erin Grove Preserves, Enniskillen; Yellow Door Deli, Portadown; Glastry Ice Cream, Kircubbin; Big Ted’s American Cookies, Ballyclare and Unimush, Armagh.

Two family butchery businesses also figured in the awards for the first time – Alfie Murray, Killyleagh and Stewart’s of Enniskillen.

Dr Vicky Kell, Invest NI Trade Director, said: “This another impressive performance by local food and drink companies in this internationally regarded competition. The achievements of our companies, both large and small, show the vibrancy of the local industry, now one of our biggest and most successful manufacturing sectors.

“The awards recognise customer-focused innovation. It’s clear that we have a highly innovative food and drink sector, a sector which has immense potential in markets such as Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

“Invest NI’s objective is to help many more food and drink companies to explore the real opportunities abroad for products that demonstrate outstanding quality and provenance. Consumers know they can depend on our products for quality and safety because they are produced to the very highest standards."