Local produce the star of Tesco's food festival
Thousands of Northern Ireland foodies have sampled the best of the region's produce at a three-day food festival in Belfast over the weekend.
The sixth annual Tesco Taste NI Festival showcased 60 homegrown companies, who supply products to the supermarket giant, at Custom House Square.
It is believed that agri-food is Northern Ireland's largest indigenous industry, its biggest manufacturing industry, its largest single employer and the biggest exporter.
Among the success stories with Tesco are Dunmurry-based Tasty Foods, which sells its curry pastes in 250 stores across Britain, and Castlewellan-based TS Foods, which makes 'Tesco Finest' studding products. Those listings were made as a result of a 'meet the buyer' event co-hosted by Tesco and Invest NI last year.
A similar event took place just days before the food festival, aiming to introduce local companies to Tesco buyers in Great Britain.
Since arriving in Northern Ireland in 1997, Tesco has increased the value of local food and drinks purchased annually from £50m to almost £600m.
Another partnership is with Newtownards-based Primacy Farm butchers, which now has seven counters at Tesco stores.
First Minister Peter Robinson has hailed the food and drink industry's worth to the Northern Ireland economy.
"The Tesco Taste Festival allows direct contact between producers, suppliers and consumers," he said. "I commend Tesco for its strong tradition of supporting Northern Ireland's processors and producers, giving customers the choice to buy local."
Gary Mills, Tesco UK retail director for convenience stores, who started his career as a store manager at the Connswater branch, added that the firm was playing a major role in facilitating export potential for local companies.
"Last year we switched to 100% local sourcing on Tesco fresh pork, chicken and beef. 100% of Tesco milk and eggs sold locally are sourced locally. Through our suppliers this benefits thousands of farming families across Northern Ireland." he said.