Food NI Making Waves In London Speciality Fine Food Fair

Column by Michele Shirlow for Farm Week

Our strategic focus on promoting our food and drink and the companies which produce exceptional quality and innovative products in Great Britain moves onto another level next week in London.

As well as showcasing local companies, especially Great Taste Award winners, at the big Speciality Food Fair at Olympia, we will be hosting an event for some of the UK’s most influential food writers at a leading restaurant of celebrity chef Mark Hix.

The event is Food NI’s way of thanking food writers who have endorsed the food and drink from quality producers, many, I am delighted to say are among our members. It’s our way of showing how much we appreciate their interest and support and to encourage them to keep up the good work.

Our guests include such established and respected food journalists as Xanthe Clay, contributor to the Daily and Sunday Telegraph food pages, Pete Brown, world cider expert and author or many books on the subject, our very good friend Charles Campion, the MasterChef judge who contributes to so many publications including Speciality Food Magazine, and Lucas Hollweg, a chef who contributes to the likes of the Times. They’ve become regular visitors to these shores and have become firm friends of Northern Ireland.

We’ve been working very closely with UK and international food writers over many years. Building relationships with influential food experts is a key element in our strategy to increase awareness of our superb food and drink in Great Britain, easily our most important and successful marketplace.

It was immensely encouraging, for instance, to see a very warm and highly supportive exchange on social media last week between Jeremy Lee, an acclaimed chef at the high-end Quo Vadis restaurant in Soho, and NearyNogs Chocolates in Newry. He is using the chocolate in the desserts he’s now creating at the restaurant for high-end diners.

Lee visited Northern Ireland last May as a guest of Food NI. It is his first visit to Northern Ireland and is another excellent example of the successful relationship building undertaken by Food NI on behalf of local food and drink companies.

The food writers also bring a wealth of knowledge and experience with them and generously provide advice to our companies in areas such as product enhancement and market opportunities. They bring to the industry here immense knowledge from visits to global markets, and we really do appreciate their support.

We’d certainly like to do more with food writers because we can offer easy access to the smaller companies who tend to provide the interesting people stories and innovative products that food writers seek. And developing these people stories is an important aspect of our Taste the Greatness action plan. We know them and understand what they need and what they want to achieve. This knowledge is based on the work we do with them on a regular basis.

Other food experts will be visiting our presentation at Speciality Food in Olympia, the UK’s biggest showplace for smaller food and drink companies.

Our participation at Speciality, a first for Food NI, is also being supported by many smaller companies, and we’ll be doing our utmost to assist and encourage them as they seek to influence the very many buyers from major retailers and independent delis at the show. Supported by Tourism Ireland and InvestNI it is a great opportunity to influence some of the 11,000 buyers expected to check in to visit the show.

It’s going to be a busy week for Food NI and for our member companies, a week which, I believe, will help increase awareness of their stories and products in Britain. I wouldn’t have it any other way.