Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has urged winners of Great Taste Awards to seize the opportunities developing in Britain and abroad for quality food and drink.
The Minister was speaking at a special ‘Celebration of Success’ organised by Invest Northern Ireland in the Europa Hotel, Belfast, for winners of Great Taste and Irish Food Awards.
More than 40 companies including Bailies Coffee took part in the special event, which included an exhibition to showcase their products to the industry and a masterclass focused on capitalising on their awards’ success to help boost sales abroad.
The Minister said: “The achievements of Northern Ireland companies in what has become the most important competition for the food and drinks industry in the UK, if not Europe, grow more impressive each year.
“The awards reinforce my conviction that Northern Ireland ranks among the very best in the world for premium and highly original food and drink.
“What has impressed me most looking at the lengthy list of gold star winners is the huge range of products chosen by the judges especially in the Great Taste Awards. I’ve been impressed, indeed inspired, by the passion for great food and drink.
“I know that buyers in major retailers are looking very closely at what we now have to offer, and our ability to supply them with different products to tantalise the taste buds of their customers.
“Competitions like the Great Taste Awards and the Irish Food Awards are very serious business, because winning gold stars and gold medals raises the profile of local companies and leads to sales outside Northern Ireland, which, as you will all be aware, is what the Executive, my department and Invest NI want to promote.
“I would encourage you to take advantage of all that Invest NI has to offer in assistance and practical support measures to help you explore sales opportunities abroad. This includes Great Britain which offers huge opportunities as an importer of around £18billion a year in food and drink.”
Commenting on how important the food and drink sector is to the local economy, generating over £3billion last year and employing almost 20,000 people, the Minister added: “This is a growing industry, increasingly winning significant business outside Northern Ireland.
“Many of our biggest companies and most successful exporters are also in food and drink. It’s an industry with immense potential, one which benefits from our green environment and rich heritage of animal husbandry and food processing.
“It’s an industry with the sort of provenance, wholesome, richly flavoured and safe products that consumers everywhere are now demanding.
“I am convinced that you have the passion, the products and professionalism to turn your achievements into worthwhile sales in Britain and beyond.”
*Bailies Coffee have now won 12 awards totalling 18 stars in the last 2 years.