Wonderful show strengthens link between farming and food

Article written by Food NI CEO Michele Shirlow, featured in Farm Week

That’s Balmoral over for another year. And what a wonderful show it proved to be. With Theresa May and the Earl of Wessex visiting the FoodNI Pavilion it was another memorable show. We were exceptionally busy with over 40 buyers scouting the producers for new talent and it was our biggest-ever presentation at Balmoral. I know that most of the companies in the pavilion, made good contacts and did business.

It seemed to me that the vast majority of the 100,000 people visiting the show, encouraged by the remarkable weather, made their way to our presentation to sample the thousands of food and drink products on show. They should have learned a great deal about the quality and variety of locally produced food and drink and better informed of just what’s readily available here when they do their weekly shopping.

They should also have seen local products splendidly showcased by the retailers including Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, Lidl and the Henderson/Spar group, the latter pulling off quite a promotional coup by giving visitors bright red cowboy hats!

The show has become a tremendous platform to recognise the quality and innovation of local food and drink. It was a tremendous presentation of the products, the dedication and energy of all the participants. We really do have a very dynamic and progressive food and drink industry.

Our own FoodNI awards in the Pavilion saw Weir’s Organic Raw Milk from Tandragee win the coveted Best Overall Product at the Show Award. The Artisan Food Award was given to Neary Nogs Stoneground Chocolate from Flurrybridge and the Best Stand at the Show Award went to Broughgammon Farm in Ballycastle, a specialist in cabrito (goat’s meat) and rose veal.  Congratulations to all our winners.

There were commendations too to Krazi Baker of Dromore, Lough Neagh Eels, Toomebridge, Peppup Sauces, Portaferry, Heatherlea Bakery, Bangor and Clearer Water of county Antrim. Our judges were also impressed by the taste of Limavady-based Corndale Free Range Charcuterie’s venison salami – an innovative venture with Baronscourt Estate Venison in Omagh.

Charles Campion of Masterchef and experienced food writers and food stylists Xanthe Clay, Lucas Hollweg and Jeremy Lee with Weir’s Organic Raw Milk

Judging the winners were top food writers Charles Campion, Xanthe Clay, Lucas Hollweg and Jeremy Lee. We were delighted to host their visit to the show and to involve them in judging the presentations. All the judges were impressed by the presentations and enjoyed hearing the stories from producers, so much so that we couldn’t get them to leave on time and had to promise to bring them back to Northern Ireland.

The Henderson/Spar Group also used the show to recognise the products and quality of their local suppliers. There were awards for Genesis Bakery in Magherafelt as ‘Supplier of the Year’, Daily Bake as ‘Own Brand Supplier’, Moy Park, Craigavon for ‘Brand Innovation’, and Around Noon for ‘Best Direct to Store”.  Congratulations to all the winners and to Irwin’s who were highly commended in two of the categories.

Much, of course, has changed since Balmoral 2016, the most significant change being the UK decision to withdraw from the European Union. This year’s show, once again, emphasised the underlying strength of our most important manufacturing industry and the relationships which exist – and are growing – between farming and food.

This is why helping to sustain family farms here through growing sales of food and drink is a central theme in our Taste the Greatness strategic action plan for the next five years. Balmoral 2017 re-emphasised the need for the farming and food industry and the wider community to pull together to ensure its continuing success post-Brexit. I always believe Balmoral Show fortifies the spirit of the whole agri food community for another 12 months.