Posted on Wednesday 12 October 2016 by Ulster Business

Eating drinking and being merry

The first ever Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink 2016 will draw to a close this quarter and the big question is, has it helped to put us on the national and international food map?

While our sportsmen and women and giants of the arts have long helped to ensure that Northern Ireland punched above its weight, our exceptional produce and restaurant/ hospitality sector has not received as much recognition, until recently.

However, this month Northern Ireland will officially be branded as a top UK foodie region when the BBC Good Food Show is held in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall from October 14-16.

Popular TV chefs like James Martin, John Torode, the Hairy Bikers and our own Paul Rankin – who championed local produce when he became the first chef in Northern Ireland to win a Michelin star in 1999 with Roscoff – will be here to entertain and tantalize the audience.

But even more importantly, the show will provide a significant platform in the form of the Tasting Theatre from food and drink producers every one of the six counties.

Hosted by chef Paula McIntyre, it will present everything from breads, cider, cheese, eels and smoked salmon.

Despite the taste sensations of all of this, there is a serious business and marketing objective behind the Year of Food.

It’s about increased awareness for international tourists, more hotel bed nights being sold, more bums on seats in restaurants and hotels and increased orders and new markets for food and drink producers.

That was very much on the mind of Tourism NI Chairman Terence Brannigan when welcoming the news of the event in January he said:

"The BBC Good Food Show will provide an ideal platform to showcase our award winning food and drink producers, place the spotlight on our talented chefs and celebrated restaurants, and spread the word about Northern Ireland as a fantastic destination.

"I am confident the BBC Good Food Show will make a significant contribution both to Year of Food and Drink 2016 and to the wider economy, helping us to deliver on our long-term aims for tourism to the end of the decade and beyond."

The Year of Food initiative was designed to position the country as a thriving food and drink destination to a domestic and international market with the objectives of:

- An increase of 5% in food-related visitor satisfaction ratings

- Support the increase of export sales to £30million

- Generate £10m of positive PR coverage in Northern Ireland, the Republic and GB.

- Increase the number of entries into the Great Taste Awards

Nearly 10 months in, signs are encouraging.

At the recent annual Great Taste Awards organised by the UK Guild of Fine Food, there were 84 Northern Ireland companies and 212 products recognised in the event.

The Meat Merchant, owned by Peter Hannan, achieved 36 product awards, a record number of awards for a single food manufacturer in UK and Ireland

And Hannan Meats from Armagh are now the most successful company in the history of the awards throughout UK and Ireland.

They won the prestigious honour of Great Taste Supreme Champion 2016 has been awarded to Hannan Meats’ Glenarm Shorthorn 4 Rib Roast.

Hannan Meats is the first producer in the 22-year history of Great Taste to take the top award for a second time.

And Hannan Meats supplies restaurants such as the James Street South group and Michael Dean’s restaurants and other hotels.

Chef Niall McKenna of James Street South believes the Year of Food will have a lasting legacy.

“I have long been an advocate of our incredible local produce and the dedication of producers here, and in showcasing their efforts, as well as our own, we continue to develop our reputation as an award winning and global food destination.

“The most important aspect of this year-long series of events will be the legacy it leaves for future generations in our hospitality industry, which will be crucial in developing the sector further.

“The increase in foodie events which attract overseas and southern tourists here showcases how much we have come on with a calendar of great events from the traditional Hillsborough Oyster Festival to the newer Moira Food Festival, and Derry coming second to the Irish foodie town destination.”

Our hotels have also swung into action to support the initiative by regularly hosting food and drinks in their properties every month of the year so far.

Joanne Harvey, Hastings Hotels Group Marketing Manager says that they are “very proud to work with a host of Northern Ireland’s finest food and drink producers”.

“At our six properties, we have made great use of the NI Year of Food and Drink monthly calendar by creating dishes that complimented the monthly themes.

“These have proved to be very popular with our guests, from home and overseas, and it has been a superb opportunity to educate them about the Northern Irish foodie culture whilst they taste and enjoy the fruits of this for themselves.”

Meanwhile, the Lough Erne Resort and Spa gave Northern Ireland its biggest international marketing platform to date when it hosted the G8 summit in 2013.

General Manager William Kirby is equally positive about the initiative.

“Any activity that assists in making our food offering more visible, and in turn highlights our outstanding five-star product, has to be welcomed.

“Initiatives like this are key in cementing Northern Ireland’s reputation as a destination of choice, and we should continue to build on the awareness achieved over the past 12 months to further develop our achievements in the food sector.”

Upcoming NI Year of Food and Drink Key Dates

  • Armagh Food and Cider Festival, 5-9 October (TBC) various locations, County Armagh
  • Belfast Restaurant Fortnight, 8 – 23 October
  • BBC Good Food Show, 14 – 16 October, Waterfront, Belfast
  • Christmas Baking, 30 November, Orchard Acre Farm, Irvinestown, County Fermanagh 
  • Naturally North Coast and Glens Market, 23 October -4 December, County Antrim

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