Great Taste Awards 2017 On The Horizon


Article by Michele Shirlow MBE for Farm Week

The annual Great Taste Awards will soon be upon us. I expect that we will hear from the UK Guild of Fine Food which local food and drink companies have met and exceeded the exacting standards set for the three categories on gold stars and the Top 50 UK Foods within the next two weeks.

The Supreme Champion title, won last year by Hannan Meats in Moira, Co Down, will be revealed at the beginning of September and ahead of the Speciality and Fine Food Fair at Olympia in London.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Food NI will be showcasing the best of Northern Ireland food and drink at the event. We are currently encouraging local companies to be part of this important presentation at the show which attracts thousands of trade buyers, making it a great route into the strategically important marketplace in Great Britain.

The Great Taste Awards is a hugely important competition for our companies and also for the wider Northern Ireland food and drink industry. And we’ve a great track record in the influential competition. Northern Ireland companies have won the supreme title on three separate occasions – McCartney’s Butchers and Deli in 2011 and Hannan Meats twice – 2012 and 2016 – and the only UK producer to do so. Hannan has also won more gold stars than any other company in the UK and Ireland. I am confident he can secure a hat trick, if not this year, in the not too distant future.

A host of smaller companies have also done extremely well in the coveted awards and have succeeded in securing prestigious business in Britain. Abernethy Butter of Dromore, for instance, gained three gold stars last year and is now on the menus of top hotels and restaurants in Britain.

The company, run by Will and Allison Abernethy, specialises in hand crafted butter, has also just announced business with the Spa Hotel in historic Tunbridge Wells and Yummy Stilton of Cropley Bishop, home of stilton cheese. Other local companies which have won three stars in recent years include Baronscourt Estate Venison from Omagh, Ewing’s Seafood of Belfast, Fermanagh’s Fivemiletown Cheese and Genesis Bakery of Magherafelt. Hundreds of other small companies have also gained gold stars, far too many to list here. They all merit great praise for the quality of their products and for their willingness to benchmark these with others from around the British Isles.

Other companies which have done well in the Great Taste Awards have gone forward to win major competitions in Britain and beyond. Mash Direct in Comber is a good example of a medium sized company which has pitched its products and overall professionalism against larger and often multinational competitors, winning the very prestigious UK Food Manufacturing Excellence Award last year and also the award for innovation at the big SIAL international food show in the Middle East. Moy Park in Craigavon also won the UK Food Manufacturing Excellence Award  the year preceding Mash Directs success. The Quiet Man Irish Whiskey from Derry won no fewer than four silver awards at this month’s International Spirits Challenge in London. Other local drinks companies such as Co Antrim’s Old Bushmills Whiskey, Shortcross Gin, Echlinville Distillery, Tempted Cider and MacIvor’s Cider has also been successful in international events.

As I mentioned earlier, taking part in major awards such as the Great Taste Awards is an important way companies can benchmark their products and processes against competitors particularly in Britain and RoI and improve their competitiveness. It helps improve business and also showcases Northern Ireland as a source of great food and drink, the latter being one of Food NI’s objectives in our Taste the Greatness action plan. Good luck to all the NI entrants awaiting award results.