Record breakers build awareness in Britain

Article written by Michele Shirlow for FarmWeek 18/08/2016

It’s been a tremendous few weeks for smaller food and drink companies here, many of them Food NI members. First we have dozens of smaller businesses achieving coveted Great Taste Awards and three featuring among the Top 50 Foods in the British Isles. They included the record breaking Hannan Meats in Moira, which was listed for three highly innovative products, and Abernethy Butter of Dromara for its exceptional smoked butter. The third local company in the Top 50 was Rooney Fish in Kilkeel for its fresh oysters.

The Great Taste Awards followed the earlier achievements of two of our members, Moy Park in Craigavon and Mash Direct in Comber in the prestigious New Product Awards organised by The Grocer magazine, the publication that’s closely watched by the UK retail industry.michele--farmweek

Then another awards that top retailers watch closely, the Irish Quality Food and Drink Awards, named a host of smaller Northern Ireland companies among its shortlist or final judging. In fact, local companies figured in virtually every category in the event that has proved successful in the past in the shape of significant business being placed by major retailers such as Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Dunne’s and SuperValu as well as discounters Lidl and Aldi.

The Irish Quality Food Award winners will be announced on 5th September at a gala dinner in Dublin, the same evening as the Great Taste Awards announce their Golden Forks and their Supreme Champion. Award winners can expect retailers to ‘come knocking’ soon afterwards. Many of those shortlisted are also likely to win new business with key retailers.

As previous winners can testify, picking up an Irish Quality Food or Drink Award is a powerful marketing tool, with many winners able to use the awards’ logos on their packaging and in national advertising campaigns.

As is the case with the Great Taste Awards, entrants to the Irish Quality Food and Drink Awards also find the independent, expert judges’ feedback invaluable in helping them enhance and further develop products.

While the awards have long been important in terms of the connections fostered between producers, especially smaller businesses, and retailers, their significance has been enhanced by the recent UK decision to withdraw from the European Union. Why? It’s because they help to raise the profile and increase awareness of the quality and innovation of food and drink from Northern Ireland in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland, our two most important markets.

For many of our smaller food and drink processors Great Britain is now more important than ever. It is the easiest market to access and one offering huge opportunities for our companies to offer alternatives to the huge amount of products that Britain imports from abroad. Increasing opportunities in markets beyond the EU through trade negotiations may be protracted and the terms may not offer much benefit for food producers because many developing nations will want open access to the UK market for their own food and drink producers especially in dairy and meat.

What we must all do now is to intensify our efforts to expand business in Great Britain and to make sure that the post Brexit negotiations do not lead to obstacles of any kind that could inhibit access to the Republic of Ireland. This is why our food and drink industry needs to part of the whole Brexit process.

Year of Food and Drink 2016 has been part of an era of ‘national surprise’; our legacy and our next key focus is to build on that success to achieve GB standout.