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Food firms get appetite for success at Balmoral


Rory Best shows off cattle at Balmoral

Rory Best shows off cattle at Balmoral

Brian Little

Rory Best shows off cattle at Balmoral

The Northern Ireland agri-food industry is celebrating after receiving a high-profile showcase at the Balmoral Show.

The NI Good Food Pavilion, part of the show's Food Village, was the largest yet with up to 40 vendors advertising and selling their wares.

Last year a report predicted that the food and drink industry could bring in £4.5bn a year and sustain up to 107,000 jobs here.

The research by management consultancy Goldblatt McGuigan for the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) said the industry could also grow sales by 40% over the next 10 years.

It claims that despite the recession, the food and drink industry grew by 3.3% in 2009.

Meanwhile, NIFDA also published a manifesto in which it detailed a five-step plan to help create around 15,000 new jobs in the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland over the next 10 years.

The Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association hopes its series of measures will help to grow the industry.

Home-grown produce and artisan goods have rocketed in popularity and while the pavilion features well-known big names like Cookstown, Moy Park, Dale Farm and Sunblest, smaller companies are also riding the wave of the culinary revolution.

Food firms are also increasingly embracing the benefits of social networking.

Baked In Belfast, which is exhibiting at the show, is enjoying a huge rise in orders thanks to a recommendation from Dragon's Den star Theo Paphitis on his Twitter page.

The business, which won the BBC judge's Small Business Sunday competition, is based in east Belfast as part of the Shop Around the Corner complex run by husband and wife team Keith and Suzanne Livingstone.

The couple make and market a range of jams, relishes and marmalades under the name Shazzam including gin and tonic marmalade, vodka and orange, traditional Irish whiskey marmalade, figgy rhubarb and banoffee jam, and their smashing pumpkin chutney.

The shop also sells cakes and runs pottery workshops.

Mr Livingstone said that combining home-made traditional food with the latest internet trends has been a winner for the business.

"After we featured on Theo Paphitis' Twitter account, we got hundreds of new orders, and then when we featured again in the Belfast Telegraph on the back of that, we got even more," he said.

"We are selling our goods as fast as we can make them.

"We think it is really important to use local produce and support local farmers - we get our rhubarb in Armagh and our pumpkins from Ballyhalbert.

"Since we opened the Shop Around the Corner about 12 to 13 months ago, about five coffee shops in a two-mile radius closed down.

"We're not about having people put into booths and trying to follow European trends, we want an open space where people can talk to each other and see our cakes and jams being made in front of them, we interact with schools and old people's homes and we see ourselves as being a part of the community."