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Thousands flock to sample wares of producers as food and drink are a Balmoral winner


Kelly shows off one of her favourite Panacea drinks

Kelly shows off one of her favourite Panacea drinks

Kelly Neill, founder of Panacea Drinks, chats to potential customers at the Balmoral Show

Kelly Neill, founder of Panacea Drinks, chats to potential customers at the Balmoral Show

Judging the sheep at the opening day of the Balmoral Show, which took place last weeek

Judging the sheep at the opening day of the Balmoral Show, which took place last weeek

Jenna Stevenson at her BitetoSavour hamper stall

Jenna Stevenson at her BitetoSavour hamper stall


Kelly shows off one of her favourite Panacea drinks

Balmoral Show has hosted the biggest ever Northern Ireland Food pavilion, which attracted tens of thousands of visitors over the three-day farming extravaganza.

All eyes in the agri-food industry were on Balmoral Park, and 50,000 people found their way to NI Food's pavilion.

Foodies could sample the wares of start-ups such as North Coast Smoke House and chocolatier Neary Nogs, as well as heavyweights Tayto, Moy Park and Dale Farm.

Around 90 Northern Ireland food producers and 40 chefs including Noel McMeel from Lough Erne Resort Co Fermanagh, Niall McKenna from James Street South, Belfast, and Dean Coppard from Uluru, Co Armagh were on hand to share their expertise.

Several companies took part for the first time, including fudgemaker Blackthorn Foods, preserves business Passion Preserved and vintage-style cafe van, Cafe Livanto.

Deals have been struck in the pavilion before - last year preserves maker Margaret Cooper from Bangor, impressed buyers at Hastings Hotels, leading to an order to supply her goods at the company's hotels.

Ulster Bank even featured a mini-market place in the centre of its stand showcasing the businesses taking part in Invest NI's Propel programme.

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Start-up Panacea Drinks and BitetoSavour, a gift hamper company featuring regional products, both took part.

BitetoSavour is run by Jenna Stevenson, who said she set out with a desire to help suppliers get their products to market.

Jenna said: "I was buying and distributing oils and I realised that there were many artisan producers with great products - but no way of consolidating what they do and marketing themselves together.

"I decided I would start to put together boxes of products for the foodie and gift market but they have also proved very popular with corporate customers and we have supplied over two and a half thousand boxes so far."

Jenna also runs Artisan NI, a group of producers who meet up on a monthly basis with the purpose of collaborating on how to better promote Northern Ireland food.

Over the last year, Jenna has secured deals to supply corporate food boxes for Invest NI, Belfast City Council and the Waterfront Hall.

Jenna and her team scour the province for locally produced food. As well as being able to purchase products, visitors to the website are encouraged to learn more about the foods and the producers.

The company has city centre retail space in Studio Souk, Belfast and a warehouse in Lisburn.

She added: "The idea is to give foodies the farmer's market experience without having to leave their home. We include seasonal produce and change the contents of the boxes frequently.

"Our summer barbecue box, which comes out in June, will include North Coast Smoke House pepper, Harnetts Oil's rapeseed oil, Habanero Steve BBQ sauces and Burren Balsamics oils."

Meanwhile, Co Down start-up Panacea Drinks hopes to take the export market by storm. Their products are billed as a low-in sugar alternative made with only natural ingredients.

Saintfield woman Kelly Neill realised her drinks had the potential to become a business when she started making them for her family and found friends started asking for them, too.

Made from Kefir, a type of grain, the drinks contain yeast, pro-biotic bacteria and several vitamins.

She said: "I wanted a dairy-free health drink for myself and my seven-year-old daughter but I didn't like the taste of what was currently on offer. Then I read about Kefir and decided I would make my own.

"Friends and family started asking me for them and people started to say that they felt really good after drinking them, particularly if they had been feeling unwell."

Kelly says she is on track to sell around 12,000 bottles this year, but hopes to up production over the next year. She currently supplies drinks to around 20 retailers and cafes in Northern Ireland and exports to the Republic of Ireland but has her sights set on capturing the Asian market.