THE Food NI Pavilion at RUAS Balmoral Park is returning with a buzz, providing a comprehensive showcase of excellence in local food and drink producers, chefs and experiences. The pavilion includes a number of innovative new businesses that have started during the pandemic and this year there is a strong focus on sustainability, health and food tourism.
At FoodNI we’ve been immensely encouraged by the enthusiasm demonstrated by our Food NI and Taste of Ulster members for Balmoral Food Pavilion, representing an industry which continues to grow in significance in terms of contribution to the local economy, especially in farming and rural communities, and which has a growing role in food and drink tourism.
Food and drink form our single biggest manufacturing industry, employing around 100,000 people across an extensive supply chain and contributing over £5 billion annually to the economy here. It’s an area where we are particularly innovative and resilient, in fact we are twice as dependent on the food and drink sector than any other region in the UK.
We are delighted those larger businesses, like Moy Park, Avondale, Whites, Sea Source, Glens of Antrim and Thompsons Tea, have returned to the pavilion. There’s a growing emphasis on plant-based options provided by companies like Finnebrogue Artisan, Country Kitchen and Linwoods, and innovation in the fruit and vegetable sector by Gilfresh, Scott’s Crispy onions, Burren Balsalmics, Milgro and Natural Umber.
And we’ve been encouraged, in particular, over the past two challenging years by artisan and smaller companies that have been investing in new products and processes to ensure their continuing ability to compete successfully and profitably in Northern Ireland. The levels of innovation have been exceptional, for example Betty’s Brown Lemonade ice cream, and we have seen some new business models emerge, for example high quality ready meals and home delivery services.
Demonstration kitchens in the pavilion have been sponsored by Tesco and TourismNI. On the Tesco kitchen, in addition to chef demonstrations, we will be linking with the Trussell Trust, which operates food banks, to raise awareness of that important work, plus holding the ever popular Tesco Steak Farmer’s Competition. On the TourismNI kitchen the focus will be on food tourism experiences such as distilling and ‘learn to’ experiences.
One of the growing areas of the food pavilion is the engagement of councils with local food and drink. This year five regions are represented by their councils, Antrim and Newtownabbey, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon (Food Heartland), Mid and East Antrim Food Network, Savour Visit Mourne and Taste Ards and North Down.
The councils play a vital role in promoting local food and drink from their areas and their presence at Balmoral Food Pavilion is a great way to help small businesses exhibit for the first time. It’s really encouraging to see councils’ interest in food and drink continue to grow and to link with the local food and drink sectors.
FoodNI has extended our collaboration on behalf of the sector. These collaborative connections have continued to involve Invest NI in trade shows outside Northern Ireland (when these resumed this year). We’ve worked, too, with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs on a number of projects, specifically the Our Food Power of Good Campaign; TourismNI on an initiative to promote sustainable food and drink experiences; and Ulster University on the first-ever Gastronomy Summit, a fascinating dialogue about the future of food involving a panel of international speakers.
This year, on the first day of the show, we are holding a Buyers’ Breakfast with InvestNI, and bringing in local, national and international buyers. After a traditional Ulster breakfast, they will be treated to a private tour of the pavilion – we are confident it will be beneficial to the exhibitors, and result in business opportunities.
Our work on promoting sustainability is becoming exceptionally important, driven both by consumer demand and spiralling energy and other costs. We are delighted that TourismNI has realised the importance of this trend for sustainable and regenerative tourism. We are acutely aware of the difficulties now being experienced by all local companies from rising costs and have represented the concerns of the local food and drink and hospitality to Northern Ireland departments. We continue to work with Peas Please, Belfast Food Network and Veg NI on initiatives to increase the consumption of local vegetables.
The NI Food Pavilion has long been a central focus of our promotional activities for the industry, and it’s great, therefore, to see it returning and its popularity.
We are delighted, too, with the support from so many excellent smaller companies which benefited enormously from taking part before Covid-19, such as Glastry Farm ice cream, Ballylisk of Armagh, Papas Mineral Co, Dundarave Estate, Ke Nako Biltong, Kennedy Bacon, Irish Black Butter, Erin Grove, Fluffy Merinque, Corndale Farm Charcuterie and the Brownie Barn. There’ll also be a number of artisan companies that emerged during the pandemic appearing for the first time such as Hinch Distillery and Island Dairies. And we’re delighted to welcome them over the four days at Balmoral.
Balmoral Show is at the heart of our business strategy because it enables us to showcase the quality and originality of the food and drink now being produced by local companies and especially the smaller enterprises which are the backbone of Northern Ireland’s most enterprising and successful industry.
There’ll be a tremendous atmosphere in the pavilion once again. And many of the participating companies, I am sure, will do really good business there, business which enables them to explore opportunities for their products both here and outside Northern Ireland. And Balmoral also enables us to continue to develop important initiatives for the industry and especially our 400 members in manufacturing and foodservice.
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