Hearty congratulations to all Northern Ireland Blas na hEireann award winners!

Hearty congratulations to all the Northern Ireland food and drink companies collecting awards in the Blas na hEireann, Irish Food Awards, last weekend. It’s tremendous to see so many companies, both large and small and across most sectors, coming from Dingle with awards which will help them to develop business especially in the Republic of Ireland.

The winners emerged from a record of some 47 local products shortlisted by an eminent panel of judges. What a great year it’s been for our companies in prestigious event like Blas, the UK Great Taste Awards, the Irish Quality Food and Drink Awards, the Food Manufacturing Excellence Awards and the UK Quality Food Awards.

More than 30 products from 22 local companies gained awards at last month’s Irish Quality Food and Drink Awards. Successful companies ranged from larger businesses such as Linden Foods, Dale Farm and Irwin’s Bakery to smaller and artisan enterprises such as Clandeboye Estate Yoghurt, Cavanagh Free Range Eggs, Whites Oats and Niche Drinks. Shortlisted for the highly influential Food Manufacturing Excellence Awards were Moy Park, Hannan Meats, Mash Direct and Willowbrook Foods.

Newcomers like Shortcross Gin and RubyBlue Vodka have also won international recognition for the originality and quality of their products.

People often ask me what the point is in entering the many award competitions in the UK and Ireland. My answer is simple: the awards usually produce contacts with and then contracts from supermarkets, symbol brands, independent retailers and delis in Britain and Ireland.

Top buyers from the leading supermarkets were present when the awards were announced at Blas last Sunday. They had opportunities to talk to the processors and to sample all the food and drink shortlisted by the judges as well as the winners.

Over the years we’ve seen award winners being listed by high-end retailers such as Harrods, Fortnum and Mason, Waitrose, Harvey Nichols, Marks and Spencer, Brown Thomas, Fallon and Byrne and Donnybrook Fair, as well as supermarkets with a longstanding commitment to our products such as Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda. Discounters such as Lidl and Aldi have also been working on new products with many of our companies.

Awards are effectively a badge of excellence that retailers look for when considering new suppliers. We’d hope to see a great many companies bidding for such endorsements especially during the forthcoming Year of Food and Drink in 2016. Northern Ireland will be hosting another visit here by leading judges in the UK Great Taste Awards, the ‘Oscars’ of the food and drink industry.

They will include many of the UK most influential food writers, stylists and chefs, thereby helping to raise the profile of our food and drink in 2016. We’ll hope to see a great many more of our companies bidding for recognition in the Great Taste Awards and the many other quality and innovation focused challenges.

Success in internationally recognised awards also showcase Northern Ireland as a great place to visit to enjoy premium quality food and drink. This profile will help Tourism Northern Ireland and Tourism Ireland as they seek to leverage the profile of our food and drink to attract tourists and other visitors.