Kilkeel butcher carves up top award
A family-run butchers in Co Down has been crowned the best on the island of Ireland at a major industry ceremony.
Cunningham Butchers, which is close to celebrating its 100th anniversary in Kilkeel, won the top gong at the recent Butchery Excellence Ireland Annual Awards.
The fourth-generation firm employs over 50 people and recently renovated its premises - opening a new bistro and fresh food hall.
The butchery is one of only a handful of stores with a Himalayan salt chamber for dry-ageing beef. The company also offers customers over 1,000 different products all sourced from the family's farm or bought from farmers and suppliers.
The judges applauded Cunningham's commitment to industry-leading standard.
Chef judge Sean Owens said: "This butchers is simply a cut about the rest and has class written all over it.
"Their shop is a shining example of how a modern Irish butcher shop should operate - it is a great retailing outlet."
The company has grown from employing just three people in 2010, and has experienced growth over each of the last six years.
Its recent expansion was supported by First Trust Bank. Speaking last September, owner James Cunningham - the fourth generation of his family to run the business - said: "Northern Ireland's agri-food industry is thriving, and this is partly down to the innovative mindset of local food businesses that are ready to jump to the challenge and modernise their operations in response to market demands.
"Our own expansion meets a growing need for products that don't compromise on taste or quality, including those of health conscious consumers.
"Thankfully, our reputation for preparing food in a traditional way but with a modern twist has grown over the years."
The business also broadened its range to include low fat and gluten-free ready meals.
Next year, Butchery Excellence Ireland will host the World Butchers' Challenge in Belfast - the first time the event has ever come to the island of Ireland.
The World Butchers' Challenge will be taking place during IFEX 2018 at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast, with a gala awards event planned for Titanic Belfast.
The event is expected to attract 250 butchers from around the world.