Pure, natural quality food and drink from our multi-award winning producers was on show at Speciality and Fine Food in London’s Olympia exhibition centre last week.
Seven local companies from many sectors took part on the Invest Northern Ireland stand at what was the first major face-to-face event for the food industry since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2019.
Trade shows such as Speciality Food play a crucial role in the food and drink industry by providing a platform for producers of all sizes and from all food categories to pitch for new business, renew existing contacts and keep abreast of developments.
Organised by the influential Guild of Fine Food in London, the show has long proved a springboard for our artisan and smaller food producers keen to do business, especially in Great Britain, still our most important single market.
Many smaller companies have made contact with supermarkets, delis and other specialist food stores and gone on to do worthwhile business. Others have seen deals at Speciality Food lead to export opportunities. It is usually held alongside the Great Taste Awards.
This is another important event in which our companies of all sizes have excelled over the years, winning the supreme champion title on three separate occasions, two of them for exceptional meat products from Peter Hannan’s pioneering Hannan Meats in Moira.
Hannan Meats, in fact, has won more Great Taste ‘stars’ than any other company in the UK and Ireland.
And Thompson’s Family Teas, owner of the famed Punjana brand, from Belfast, is the most decorated tea enterprise in the awards.
Other recent successes include Millbay Oysters from Carlingford Lough, run by Andrew Rooney of Kilkeel’s Rooney Fish, which were rated the best oysters in the UK and Ireland and went on to win significant business in France and China.
Invest NI supported the resumption of this important event by bringing buyers from many of the top food retailers and food service operations to the impressive stand.
The participating companies at Speciality Food represented key sectors of Northern Ireland’s £5 billion food and drink industry, the region’s biggest manufacturer with exports to over 60 global markets.
The colourful showcase featured Burren Balsamics of Richhill in Armagh, a specialist producer of flavoured balsamic vinegars for discerning retailers such as Harrods in London.
In addition to a comprehensive range of vinegars, including several blended from natural fruits from local suppliers, the family venture introduced flavour rich Citrus Pearls, zingy taste bursts of grapefruit, orange, lemon and lime infused white balsamic vinegars.
Burren Balsamics also pioneered the Letterbox Larder packets of natural herbs and spices for cooks and offers a range of jams and relishes. The company has won a series of UK Great Taste Awards and Blas na hEireann Irish National Food Awards for the originality and the exceptional flavours of its product portfolio.
Burren’s founder Susie Hamilton Stubber was delighted to be back at Speciality Food again.
“It’s always been an important show for us over the years and has helped us to grow out sales in Great Britain,” says Susie.
“We were delighted then to support Invest NI in their impressive stand at the show, which produced some very good contacts among key buyers.
“We’d expect to turn these into solid orders in the short-term,” she adds.
Noel Allen, the founder of Noisy Snacks in Belfast, showed an extensive range of plant-based and healthy snacks which are high in protein, high fibre, rich in flavours and low in calories.
A unique feature of the products is the noise created from the packaging when they are shaken and opened.
Noel says: “It was great to be back at Speciality Food because it’s an immensely important show for us, especially after a very difficult period for everyone. It was a busy show and exhausting but very worthwhile.
“It’s encouraging to see the trade show circuit resuming again. We need the platforms provided by Invest NI to recover business lost during the awful pandemic and to explore new opportunities with buyers,” he adds.
Launching at the show were innovative and different products from It’s Only Plant Based, part of Rich Sauces in Newtownards, a UK leader in sauces for hotels, restaurants and cafes.
The new development is a creative response to the growing market demand for plant-based foods for retailers.
Debuting at Speciality was Nuttin’ But, a Portadown, County Armagh, specialist producer of oat-based healthy Immune bars and pots for retailers.
Another first timer, Alastair Bell of Irish Black Butter spreads, found the experience “very important to my growth plans”.
“It was great to be there on Invest NI’s excellent stand and to be able to draw on the knowledge and expertise of Invest NI’s Michele Charrington, who knows so much about the GB market and knows virtually everyone in supermarkets and food shows there, along with Food NI’s energetic and highly supportive Christine Cousins,” he says.
“My business in Britain, which has been developing steadily over the past few years, will benefit enormously from the host of great contacts made at the show, which I will be following up over the days ahead,” adds Alastair.