Award-winning food inn-ovator Peter Hannan, of Hannan Meats in Moira, has no fewer than 11 new products shortlisted for major awards in the annual Blas na hEireann Irish National Food Awards in Dingle in October.
Peter decided to concentrate his energies on Blas this year and opted to step back from UK Great Taste in his strategic focus on launching the new range of premium meat pies and sausage rolls for the fast developing convenience foods init-ially for markets in Ireland.
“The markets in Northern Ireland and the Republic are vitally important to us,” Peter explains.
“The new products will be driven by our Meat Merchant shop in Moira and the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland and through our long-standing collaboration with Whelan Butchers throughout the Republic,” he adds.
The decision to develop con-venience favourites such as sausage rolls and pies is in line with growing market trends for quality meals that are easy to cook.
A key market identified by the company is hospitality in which chefs are also opting increasingly for premium ready meals due to problems such as kitchen staff shortages.
“Blas is a great competition which offers tremendous access to the Republic of Ireland in particular,” adds Peter. “It’s an important stepping stone, in addition, to the market in Great Britain.”
Dozens of local companies are also in the running for Blas awards this year. It’s a competition in which local companies traditionally do very well. Rooney Fish of Kilkeel is a past winner of Blas with its Mill Bay Oysters.
Andrew Rooney, managing dir-ector of Rooney Fish, says: “Blas is a tremendous event which worked extremely well for us over the past few years.
“We’ve won great recognition for the quality of our oysters in particular,” he adds.
Other local food companies in the running for awards include Long Meadow Cider in Armagh, L’Artisan Foods in Portadown, Partie de Moi in Portrush and Sea Sugar Confectionery in Larne.
Catherine McKeever, a director of Long Meadow Cider, continues: “Blas has helped us to build business, especially in the Republic. It’s a great way of raising a profile in the marketplace.
“We have also learned a great deal from feedback from the expert judges.”
David Wilson, of Maud’s Ice Cream in Carrick, adds: “The Blas na hEireann awards represent the absolute pinnacle in terms of high quality food and drink produced here on the island of Ireland.
“No other food award carries as much gravity when it comes to showcasing the quality of your product to new buyers. There is one award coveted above all others and it is Blas.”
Alanagh van Standen, of Bally-clare’s Ke Nako, adds: “Blas is internationally recognised as being a marker of quality and even across the UK and EU and it is often the first award we are asked about.
“It has definitely made a difference to our business as people trust it as a marker of a top product.”
A first time winner last year, Gary Stewart of Tartine in Bushmills agrees: “In 2021 I was a new small batch condiment producer and I had entered my Distillers Pickle Sauce into the Blas awards on the basis that it would be a superb achievement to make it through to the finalists stage.
“I had great belief in my product and when the awards day came and it won gold, I was thrilled.
“The Irish food awards bestowed a validation that is respected island wide and now when I approach prospective stockists and they catch a glimpse of that little gold winning Blas label…”
Now in its 15th year, Blas is the biggest competition for quality Irish produce on the island of Ireland.
In 2020 and 2021, Blas faced the most unusual times though judging and the awards still went ahead.
Products from every county on the island were entered into the competition to win gold, silver and bronze awards in a broad range of food and drink categories as well as key awards such as Supreme Champion and Best Artisan Producer.
Artie Clifford, Blas founder and chairman, continues: “As always we maintained our commitment to celebrating the very best in Irish food and drink.
“We feel that now, more than ever, it is essential to shine a spotlight and give that all important clap on the back to the talented producers dotted around the island.
“We are excited to get back to in-person events for this year, but we would like to bring some of the successful online elements too and we are working on the details for this year,” he adds.
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