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Leading producers now gearing up for Balmoral Show's bumper four-day agri-food festival

By Rachel Martin

Northern Ireland food producers are gearing up production ahead of one of the biggest events of the agri-food calendar, Balmoral Show.

This year, more than 100,000 people are expected to pass through Balmoral Park showgrounds for the show's first-ever four-day event.

Glastry Farm Ice Cream, meat firm ABP, Moy Park, Tayto, Scott's Onions and Mash Direct will be among some of the most recognisable names in Northern Ireland food production making an appearance this year.

And Spar owner Henderson Group will also announce the winners of its Local Supplier Awards during the event.

Kircubbin dairy farmer turned ice-cream maker Will Taylor from Glastry Farm said he's working hard with staff to make enough ice-cream for the four-day event. He said: "It's always hard to say exactly how much ice-cream we'll need for the show as the weather can have a big effect, but going by last year, I'd expect to sell between 350-400 litres a day. But on top of that we'll also have to provide our food service customers with their weekly allocations as well.

"We find the show is good way to meet consumers and reach out to people who maybe haven't heard of us before. Last year I met people who had travelled as far as Tipperary to get there so I know it's a good way to reach a wide audience.

"It's a very busy time of year for us - we'd love to show some of our ice cream cows at Balmoral. It'd be a really nice showcase for them but on the Ards Peninsula, Balmoral Show always coincides with the start of the silage season so we're all hands on deck and just won't have the time."

And this year, Will has other big plans. He will be launching his newest flavour - Citrus Crunch, a Northern Ireland take on an Eton Mess.

The new variety is based on a lemon flavoured ice cream with drizzles of lime coulis and lumps of meringue swirled through.

Coleraine man Richard Scott, who runs Scott's Crispy Onions alongside his 23-year-old son Christopher, is also excited about this year's Balmoral as it will be first outing for his new snack-sized packets of flavoured onions.

The innovative idea will see him make smaller 35g packets of his flavoured crispy onions using the firm's new pre-packing and sealing machine.

He hopes the first flavour of the line - Chinese salt and chilli - will be popular both with consumers and food service for airlines, cinemas and cruise ships. The brand already retails through several large retail chains including SuperValu and Centra but Mr Scott hopes to boost its profile.

The firm employs around 20 people and last year saw a 50% increase in sales, which Richard partly puts down to the decision to take on a stand at Balmoral for the first time.

"We're able to see for ourselves people who maybe wouldn't have normally bought our product giving it a go, tasting it and really enjoying it.

"We found it easy enough to get into food service but with the public it's harder to build a brand with consumers. Hearing the feedback is helpful. We noticed a lot of people were buying the standard sized 90g packs and maybe eating a handful of the onions as a snack."

Meat firm, ABP is another food producer to take the helm as one of the show's five platinum sponsors. ABP Northern Ireland managing director George Mullan said the show is a good way for the firm to connect with the farmers and build on its reputation.

The firm started sponsoring Balmoral in 1998 and took the decision to upgrade its sponsorship after the show moved to Balmoral Park outside Lisburn in 2013.

The firm works with more than 5,000 beef and sheep farmers from across Northern Ireland and employs 650 people across its Newry and Lurgan meat plants.

George Mullan said: "Balmoral's the premium event on the calendar for Northern Ireland food and drink and for us it's a great opportunity to meet with our suppliers on their day out.

"It also allows us to showcase what we do to the wider public. It's great to be able to chat to people and their families and to reach out beyond our suppliers as well."

This year, Balmoral Show will run from May 10 to 13.

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