The popular four-day RUAS Balmoral Show, which opened yesterday, saw the launch of a unique collaboration on a new beef burger by a group of local artisan enterprises led by Hellbent’s Louis Ludik and Schalke van der Merwe.
They both hope the collaboration on the burger will be the start in a series of new products with other smaller producers.
Hellbent, a specialist in South African boerewors beef sausages, meatballs and burgers, created the ‘Big Balmoral Burger’ with other artisan producers Milgro Onions from Limavady, Omagh’s Kennedy Bacon, Ballylisk of Armagh Cheese from Portadown, and Ke Nako Meats from Ballyclare, another specialist in South African dried beef.
The launch was developed by Hellbent’s Louis Ludik, the former Ulster rugby star, to showcase the business potential of innovative products being created when smaller food producers work together.
“We want to show shoppers that everything for a great tasting burger, for instance, is readily available and fresh from Northern Ireland producers.
“We’ve some of the tastiest and nutritious food in the world,” Louis says.
“It’s something we’ve been thinking about for some time.
“We chose the burger for the collaboration because it’s among our most popular products that we cook at food shows here,” he adds.
“We chose the companies for the burger because we meet them at shows and have developed bonds with many.
“The collaboration at Balmoral, I hope, will be the start of a series between smaller food companies on original products.
“We want more shoppers to appreciate the quality and wholesome foods available here and to recognise that buying more locally is good for the industry and, of course, the wider Northern Ireland economy,” he explains.
Louis and business partner Schalke van der Merwe have created a successful enterprise that’s now selling meats to supermarkets such as Eurospar and Sainsbury’s here as well as Aldi in Ireland and Scotland.
It’s become a hugely successful smaller enterprise and role model.
Mervyn Kennedy, of Kennedy Bacon, is delighted to be taking part in the collaboration. “It’s a terrific idea that we are keen to support,” he says.
And Mark Wright, of Ballylisk of Armagh cheese, adds: “We’ll certainly be keen to continue to work with Louis on the creation of original tastes from our award-winning cheeses.”
Hellbent, which has also introduced brandy and wines, was among dozens of artisans and smaller companies from across the country hoping for a significant business boost from taking part in the FoodNI Food Pavilion during what will be the biggest showcase of local food and drink here this year.
Among those featuring at Balmoral for the first time are Gold and Brown Gourmet Brownies from Ballymena, Larne’s Green Fingers Family Granola and Spore Shores of Ballywalter, a specialist mushroom grower. They will also be in the huge FoodNI Food Pavilion.
They are appearing at the show for the first time alongside seasoned campaigners like Hellbent, Kennedy Bacon, Moy Park and Downpatrick’s Finnebrogue Artisan.
The showcase is the biggest held since the Covid-19 outbreak and marks a return to what the event was like before the lockdowns shut the pavilion’s doors.
Gold and Brown’s Angela Patterson is looking forward to her debut in the Food Pavilion.
“We’ve visited the show many times in the past,” she says. “We can’t wait for the doors to open on what will be the first occasion to show our luxury Belgium chocolate brownies there.
“We are hoping to raise awareness of our unique products and to do some business during the time we will be taking part in the FoodNI Food Pavilion,” she adds.
Andrea Bohar, who runs Green Fingers Family Granola, isn’t quite sure what to expect at the show.
“While we’ve taken part in a number of small food markets and done reasonably well, Balmoral will be a huge event and will test our stock of granola,” she said.
“We’ve been stocking up to ensure there’s enough for sampling and, of course, sales. It’s a tremendous opportunity for us.”
Connor McCrorie, the founder of SporeShore mushroom farm at Ballywalter, is another welcoming the opportunity to reach out to a wider base of shoppers.
“It will give me the chance to explain how I grow the widest range of mushrooms on the shore at Ballywalter,” he says.
“Once people taste my unique range of mushrooms and hear how they are grown they usually buy,” he says.
“The Food Pavilion is virtually back to what it was before the advent of the horrible coronavirus pandemic locked virtually everything down here,” FoodNI’s Michele Shirlow continues.
“While we will still be observing safe distancing and hand sanitising in the pavilion, we will be providing a comprehensive showcase of the very best in local food and drink available across Northern Ireland.
“We’ve been immensely encouraged by the enthusiasm demonstrated by our Food NI and Taste of Ulster members for this year’s important event for an industry which continues to grow in significance in terms of contribution to the local economy, especially in farming communities.
“Food and drink remains 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,” she adds.
n The Food Pavilion is organised by FoodNI in partnership with the Northern Ireland Regional Food Programme and Tourism NI.
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