Celebrate our superb food at Belfast Christmas market

The always popular Christmas Market opened its doors in the grounds of Belfast City Hall at the weekend, and I hope Farm Week readers will take the opportunity to support the food and drink companies selling local food, made by local people, in the Year of Food and Drink section. You can easily find it, just outside the gates on the pavement opposite Robinson & Cleavers. If you’ve not had a chance to visit the market, I’d urge you to take this opportunity to see just what’s available from our innovative local producers.

micheleFoodNI were delighted when the organisers invited us to involve local companies in this celebration of Year of Food and Drink. As a result, there will be a much stronger and more varied Northern Ireland presence this year. I’ve certainly enjoyed visiting what is a very colourful and fun event over the years. I am very confident that the engagement of local companies will continue to grow in the future and I hope it will become a strong attraction for foodies and tourists alike.

Several of our member companies, including Suki Tea and Melting Pot fudge, have taken part in previous Christmas markets and have enjoyed good business in the weeks running up to Christmas. Experience shows that it’s a market, now among the most popular in the UK, during which companies really do sell a lot of product…and to visitors from many parts of Northern Ireland and even from further afield.

Even more encouraging is the fact that this area has been supported by a number of councils also keen to show their support for local food companies, namely Ards and North Down, Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon, Newry Mourne and Down and Fermanagh and Omagh. Ulster Artisans has a chalet dedicated to artisanal producers. The support of Ulster Bank and TourismNI was also vital to make this new initiative work.

FoodNI are determined to grasp every opportunity to showcase the food and drink industry. Our engagement at the recent BBC Good Food Show at the splendid Waterfront Hall was another example of the strength of our commitment to provide a lead in marketing local companies. Indeed, I believe that Food NI has the experience and the expertise to play a pivotal role in carrying the standard for our superb food and drink to other markets.

Encouragingly many of our niche producers are enjoying increasingly success in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Some excellent recent examples of this development are our good friends at Abernethy Butter, who have just added The Ritz Hotel in London to their impressive list of high profile clients. Abernethy is a real trailblazer and probably the only smaller business from here to supply the famous hotel in London’s Piccadilly.

Mash Direct continues to build its rightful reputation in top awards in Britain, winning a UK Quality Award for one of its original side dishes and Best UK Manufacturer in the same week that Moy Park also won National Awards. Two local companies winning top awards in the UK is testament to our great industry.

Our participation at the Christmas market will be one of the final events in the Year of Food and Drink. There will be further initiatives in 2017 and beyond to carry forward the many achievements of the campaign particularly in Northern Ireland and abroad through the activities of TourismNI, Tourism Ireland and Invest Northern Ireland. There’s so much more that can be achieved in both the short and long term by further developing this important collaboration for such a vibrant, ambitious, innovative and enterprising industry.