Fifty Northern Ireland food companies have tabled 250 new products in a bid to strike gold in the prestigious Great Taste Awards, the UK’s leading event for smaller food businesses.
For the first time in the history of the awards, judging of the medal contenders from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was held outside the UK and took place during this week’s IFEX event in Belfast. Companies from the Republic have submitted over 500 products.
The awards are organised annually by the influential Guild of Fine Food in London and cover a broad range of food categories including beverages, dressings, pickles and chutneys, biscuits, frozen desserts, sausages, bacon and cured meats.
Eleven local food companies won 20 gold awards in last year’s Great Taste Awards, the UK’s largest independent evaluation of fine food and drink. In 2004, when the competition was launched, there were just five companies from Northern Ireland who entered a total of 24 products.
The overall Northern Ireland winner last year was Drumgooland Smokehouse, Castlewellan, an artisan smokery run by Mrs Suzanne Smyth which gained two gold medals for its hot smoked duck and hot smoked salmon.
The Northern Ireland winners were selected from among 4,500 foods submitted by producers from throughout the British Isles and other parts of Europe. Other local winners last year included Genesis Bakery in Magherafelt, Koka Chocolates, Newtownabbey, Mash Direct, the Comber-based processor of potatoes and vegetables, which gained five golds, and Tyrone’s Fivemiletown Creamery.
Maynard Mawhinney, Invest NI’s Director of Food, said: “We have an excellent track record in the awards. Many smaller companies have won gold medals for originality and quality over the years. More local companies than ever before are now bidding for gold. I am confident that the judges will find that good food is truly in our nature in Northern Ireland.
“Smaller food companies are now benefiting from the expertise, experience and knowledge which exists within Invest NI in essential business growth areas such as innovation and external marketing. We are working with many smaller companies to help them to seize opportunities resulting from overseas trends, such as the growing demand for natural and wholesome foods which are also rich in flavour.
“Winning an award is a marvellous endorsement for any company.” The Great Taste Awards, now in their 15th year, has gained widespread recognition among the country’s retailers and consumers as the benchmark for fine food in the UK. The awards are also an accreditation scheme. Products bearing the logo have been independently proven to be of originality, quality and excellence.
The winners will be announced in August and will receive their awards at the Speciality and Fine Food Exhibition in London in early September.