The Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink 2016 is an immensely important initiative for export-focused food producers and our companies have hit the ground running in grasping the opportunities developed for them.
Twenty local companies attended Gulfood in February and Food & Drink Expo in April, exhibiting on Invest NI stands, as part of our ongoing efforts to help local companies develop international business opportunities in key markets.
Gulfood exhibition is one of the most important food and hospitality shows in the world and historically has delivered significant business for Northern Ireland companies including Free’ist, Dale Farm and Glenarm Organic Salmon.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is an important trading partner for local businesses and Northern Ireland’s relationship with this market continues to grow.
Relationships are a very strong part of the Middle East culture and Antrim Hills’ investment to foster a strong rapport with Dubai Duty Free recently resulted in this family owned business securing its first business in the UAE. Its success illustrates the scale of business opportunities in the GCC (which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE) for Northern Ireland companies prepared to invest the time and resources.
Many local food and drink producers took advantage of the opportunity to meet a group of top chefs and buyers from Dubai hotels and UAE based foodservice distributors who visited Northern Ireland in February to explore potential business opportunities and secure new export sales.
Invest NI designed this visit to build on the successful relationships established by many local companies already exporting there. The interest shown in Northern Ireland by such an influential group cements the prestige of our offering in this region.
Over 40 local companies submitted products, including salmon, cote de boeuf, striploin, lamb, cheeses, chutneys and jams, which the chefs used to create a Year of Food & Drink Tasting Buffet.
The buffet delivered by the chefs was impressive and a fitting showcase of the pure, natural, quality of Northern Ireland produce.
The Year of Food and Drink celebrations continued in May with Fortnum and Mason’s Taste of Northern Ireland promotion from 05-19 May at its Piccadilly store. Artisan beer, award winning cheese and exquisite meats were among the 42 products on offer at the iconic business, famous for bringing the finest food and drink to its customers from all the corners of the world.
Organised in partnership with Invest NI, the 23 businesses invited by Fortnum and Mason had the opportunity to meet HRH Prince Charles along with influential buyers, customers and suppliers at London’s premier food and drink retailer.
Commenting on the celebration, Ewan Venters, CEO of Fortnum and Mason said: “For 309 years we have been supporting artisan producers, bringing our customers the very best in specialist food and drink. Northern Ireland boasts an abundance of world-class produce and we are delighted to host this London platform for Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink celebrations. The quality of everything is astounding and we know our customers are going to fall in love with the Northern Irish food on offer.”
First Minister Arlene Foster fully supported the celebration and toured Fortnum’s Food Hall during a visit to London:
Promotion is a significant component of our strategy to help accelerate the growth of food and drink sales outside Northern Ireland, which is why Invest NI organised an eight week airport advertising campaign across the world. Ministers have also contributed in delivering this message while overseas, by highlighting Northern Ireland as a destination for food tourists.
During the recent St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Washington, guests of the NI Bureau sampled boxty cooked by Celebrity Chef Noel McMeel and received a gift box of items from Northern Ireland producers.
Invest NI will continue to play its part over the coming months in helping local businesses to maximise the commercial opportunities in Great Britain and beyond. The Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink 2016 is shaping up to be an effective platform to profile the skill, products and services of our local companies and we will work to ensure that Northern Ireland’s reputation for quality and innovation is not only maintained but enhanced in the months ahead.