Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has commended 27 local companies after they scooped a total of 56 gold awards in the UK Great Taste Awards.
The Minister was speaking at a reception organised by Invest Northern Ireland for the local winners in the prestigious awards, the UK’s largest independent evaluation of fine food and drink. The 27 companies, mostly small and medium sized enterprises, struck gold for innovative food products at the awards ceremony which was organised by the UK Guild of Fine Food.
They included four companies which achieved the top ranking of three stars: Glen Tender, Gilford, the overall Northern Ireland winner for its Aberdeen Angus Sirloin Steak; O'Kane's Poultry, Ballymena for its Southern Fry Chicken; Crossgar Meats, Downpatrick for its Free Range Duck and The Offbeat Bottling Company, Bangor for its Thick Cut Orange Marmalade.
At the reception, the Minister presented the Invest NI sponsored Best Speciality from Northern Ireland Award to Glen Tender.
Praising the success of the companies, the Minister said: “The Great Taste Awards are a measure of the quality of innovation within the food industry, especially within the small business sector. Winning a Great Taste Award is testament to the consistently high standards our companies are achieving and sustaining, many in markets outside Northern Ireland.
"The statistics of our engagement in the UK Great Taste Awards indicate that smaller companies in particular are increasingly recognising the importance of innovation and new product development. Food is probably the fastest moving and most challenging market, shaped by a number of factors from the changing demands of consumers to environmental concerns.
"The importance of food to the local economy is seen in the statistics which show that 34% of all manufacturing sales in Northern Ireland derive from the food, drink and tobacco sector. Speciality food, the focus of the Great Taste Awards, is an important and growing segment within the overall grocery market, with sales in the UK, worth £3.6billion in 2006.
"Invest Northern Ireland recognises the contribution of the food industry to the health of the local economy and has taken significant steps to increase its practical support to companies across a broad range of areas including marketing, new product development and design."
The 27 Northern Ireland companies competed against more than 1,000 companies from across the UK in the Great Taste Awards. Only 83 companies across the entire UK competition won the elite 3-star gold awards, which are presented for products considered by the judges to be 'exquisite' and faultless’.