Bringing Tastes of Ulster to Parliament

Article by Michele Shirlow for Farm Week- 10/03/2016

Hundreds of quality and authentic products from our food and drink companies, from artisan through to primary producers, will be showcased next week in one of the most important locations in the United Kingdom.

micheleFoodNI are taking a taste of Northern Ireland to Westminster Palace. On show in the House of Commons will be products from 14 Northern Ireland companies – everything from Veda bread from Ann’s Pantry, tray bakes from The Heatherlea, venison from Baronscourt Estate through to the story of Comber Earlies from Richard Orr. Also on display will be Bushmill’s whiskey, Mash Direct, Thompsons tea, Johnsons coffee, Harnetts rapeseed oils, Lough Neagh eels, Dart Mountain cheese, Brambleberry jams, 38 Expresso and innovative pressed juices from Skinny Malinkys.

We’ll be introducing top politicians, officials and other guests to many of our fantastic flavours of Northern Ireland as we mark our first Year of Food and Drink. They will also experience flavours from Northern Ireland prepared by Paula McIntyre, a leading Northern Ireland chef and a great champion of artisan food and drink.

It’s a terrific opportunity to highlight the breadth and quality of the output from our processors and farmers in the ‘corridors of power’ at Westminster and is a further example of Food NI’s focus on intensely practical support for companies to expand sales in Great Britain, still our most important market outside Northern Ireland.

Great Britain is a market that’s easy to access and to service. It’s sound business sense to invest time and other resources on exploiting the huge opportunities there today.

As I’ve written in previous columns, Great Britain imports food and drink worth upwards of £40 billion annually, which provides tremendous scope for both large and small companies in all sectors of the Northern Ireland industry to grow sales there.

This is why we’ve been focusing resources on measures such as contacts with journalists, writers and, most recently, many of the most influential chefs, especially in the London area, to raise the profile of our food and drink in Britain. Our on going contacts with chefs in Britain are designed to encourage them to use more of our products on their menus.

We are extremely grateful for the encouraging support from local MP’s David Simpson and Margaret Ritchie, Members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and our hosts for what has become an immensely important event in our calendar and especially for our member companies supporting this initiative.

It’s another excellent example of the tremendous support from our local politicians for our campaign to help to accelerate the growth of Northern Ireland’s biggest industry and for initiatives within the framework of Year of Food and Drink. Local politicians, MPs, MLA and councillors have supported all the campaign’s activities to date. Their support has been immensely encouraging as we endeavour to increase awareness – and sales- of local food and drink in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

It has long been clear that they all appreciate that better business will increase employment opportunities across Northern Ireland and especially in rural communities which have been adversely affected by the difficulties being experienced by many sectors of our farming industry.

There could scarcely be a better time to showcase our food and drink in Britain than on the eve of St Patrick’s Day, a key occasion within Year of Food and Drink’s theme for March – Heritage and Traditions – underpinning our provenance, a crucially important feature of our food and drink.

And it’s a feature that commands the attention and respect of buyers, food writers and tourists. We can be proud of our tremendous heritage of quality, wholesome and safe food and drink production and processing across all sectors.

Visitors to the Food NI presentation in the House of Commons will be able to learn more about our food heritage and to talk to many of the producers, both large and small, who are carrying it forward so enthusiastically through their dedication to maintain the highest production standards in the development of innovative food and drink.