Networking drive to turn Mid and East Antrim into top food destination

Interview 28-2-19 SM Farm

Glenarm Estate’s Adrian Morrow describes a recent trip to Kilkenny, Ireland’s Food Destination 2018, organised by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council for its Food Network, as “extremely worthwhile and a great learning experience”.

He was among a group of food and hospitality businesses from the network which recently visited Kilkenny on a trip co-ordinated by Food NI that was shaped by the council to help in bringing the prestigious title to the borough this year.

“As well as our role in raising beef and sheep at Galgorm, especially for Peter Hannan of multi award-winning Hannan Meats in Moira, the estate is developing into a tourism destination which will be of enormous benefit to the local community.

“We have a very successful food festival and Highland Games here. Our colourful gardens are popular and we have catering facilities on the estate, including a very successful tea room, a great spot for a delicious afternoon tea,” continues Adrian.

“What we are developing is an integrated food/tourism opportunity for the local economy.

“I joined the trip to Kilkenny to see how our offering compared with what’s now available there. While I saw a few things that could be implemented here, Glenarm Estate measured up really well.

“We’ve a great offering both for local visitors and tourists seeking a great day out,” he says.

“I also made a number of good contacts I’ve been in contact with since returning home. Indeed, all the people we met in Kilkenny were very hospitable and interested in what Mid and East Antrim is doing. I hope we’ll see many of them at Glenarm soon,” he adds.

And it was much the same for Linda McGibbon, who runs SeaSugar, a small business in Larne making a unique range of ‘pulled’ sweets featuring original and natural flavours.

She says: “It was really interesting to meet other small businesses in Kilkenny and to see how they are benefitting there from the sharp focus on tourism, a focus strengthened by the food destination status. There’s not a lot there that’s different from what’s available in Mid and East Antrim.

“Our food network has a pivotal role in pulling producers of all sizes and sectors together with hotels, restaurants and cafes in a fully co-ordinated campaign to market the region to both tourists and foodies.

“For instance, we have what is in effect a confectionery corner of artisans in Larne making really interesting and quality products, including sweets, chocolates and mallows.

“The council is to be commended for providing the essential leadership and practical support to set the borough apart as a great tourism destination, especially for foodies,” she adds.

Mid and East Antrim was one of three entrants from Northern Ireland last year and received highly commended in the competition, organised by the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) and won by Kilkenny. The council aims to reach the next level in 2019.

The competition looks at what destinations lead the way with food festivals, gourmet trails or farmers’ markets, as well as great dining experiences for locals and visitors alike.

The food and drink network was launched by the council in 2017 and now has more than 60 businesses listed as active members.

The aim of this important initiative is to get agri-food businesses working together to promote the area as not only somewhere for ‘foodies’ to get fresh, local, high quality produce but also to open doors for them to bag contracts to grow their business.

The trip showed how Kilkenny has been moulded into a vibrant food hub that now offers a huge array of foodie offerings, from local producer food festivals, farmers markets, food trails, cookery schools and a number of Michelin star dining experiences that regularly receive critical acclaim both nationally and internationally.

It also allowed producers from the borough to learn about how Kilkenny businesses from the hospitality sector collaborate with their local council, and gain insight into best practice, innovation in artisan food production, food tourism and destination development.

Alderman Robin Cherry, another local producer and a network member, adds: “It was a fantastic opportunity to learn from the success of the competition.

“The agri-food industry has been a key cog in the economic wheel for this area for decades and the fact that it is continuing to evolve in this dynamic way is really exciting.

“I’m also pleased to see the council take such an integral role in developing this sector to secure it for generations to come.”

Portia Woods of Toast the Coast Food Tours & Experiences, adds: “It has been insightful spending even just a short time to study innovation, collaboration and the linking a food offering within a destination area.

“Having actively participated in the network since 2017 it has been a vital aspect of my business. It has encouraged me to refocus my business and look at the opportunities to collaborate with other like-minded businesses across the council area by networking, attending and developing hand-in-hand with the support of the network.”

n The important initiative is part-funded by DAERA under the NI Regional Food Programme.

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