Companies hope for success in Irish Food Awards

Article written by Food NI CEO Michele Shirlow for Farm Week 29/09/2016

Around 40 local companies will be hoping to come away from Dingle this weekend with a prestigious Blas na hEireann award for premium food and drink. The shortlist of Northern Ireland food and drink is the biggest ever, which indicates the growing popularity of the Irish National Food Awards and the vitality of local producers.

Our companies have a good track record in these awards, which are held annually. They are part of the hugely successful Dingle Food Festival, one of the biggest events of its type in Ireland, in the region which Tourism Ireland has rebranded as The Wild Atlantic Way in a drive to accelerate growth in tourism.michele--farmweek

Blas na hEireann has become a magnet for Northern Ireland food and drink producers because the event attracts the attention of dozens of buyers from the main retailers in the South of Ireland. Companies which do well at Dingle usually find it easier to pitch for business there, which is vital as it is easily our most important export market.

Most of the concerns about the impact of Brexit, especially currency volatility and possibly new border arrangements, have been pushed to the back burner by our companies, as they seek to grow sales.

While the Euro-Sterling exchange rate is currently benefiting Northern Ireland food producers in euro -markets, who really knows what the future holds for food producers on the island of Ireland? We have to hope – and, of course, work as hard as possible to ensure – that there won’t be a return to the border restrictions of an era we all thought had been consigned to the pages of history.

The importance of business in the South to our companies was also apparent in the most recent Irish Quality Food and Drink Awards (IFQA) in Dublin, another event which saw Northern Ireland companies, most of them Food NI members, picking up a host of awards and commendations for the broadest range of products including bread, cakes and mince pies, potatoes, meal accompaniments, salads, children’s food and cider.

Indeed, Northern Ireland cider producers swept up all the awards in this important category. As a result, Northern Ireland consolidated its position as Ireland’s cider capital, a reputation which has resulted in many of our processors being listed by the island’s leading retailers.

IFQA really does work for our companies. This is because the island’s leading retailers are all actively involved in tabling products for consideration. It’s also true that products not listed by retailers frequently earn plaudits from the panel of expert judges. Several local companies have subsequently secured listings from retailers as a result of their endorsement by the judges.

This is why we encourage our companies, both large and small, to get involved in competitions such as IQFA, Blas na hEireann and UK Great Taste.
Success in Awards helps to raise their profile among retailers and also shoppers. And greater awareness often leads to solid business.