Belfast Telegraph

Year of Food and Drink to showcase very best of what we have to offer

By Michele Shirlow, chief executive of Food NI

Our first ever Year of Food and Drink is now up and running. And it's going to be an immensely exciting and significant 12 months in Northern Ireland, and indeed further afield as we celebrate our fantastic food and drink and the people and companies behind the products. They are increasingly being recognised here and abroad as being outstandingly tasty, wholesome and, of course, safe.

The year will showcase the best of local food and drink and should have significant benefits in consumer awareness and sales. Showcasing the breadth and quality of what's readily available in Northern Ireland is what our Year of Food and Drink is all about.

We want to tell people here and abroad about the products, the enterprising and creative people behind them, and also to encourage and challenge consumers to opt for local food and drink. Retailers will be running promotions highlighting local products. There will be a host of other initiatives designed to engage consumers.

We are working with our cadre of talented chefs to harness the products to develop Northern Ireland's growing reputation as a global centre of original dishes that will also increase our appeal to tourists and other visitors.

As well as boosting sales of artisan food and drink in Northern Ireland, the campaign will seek to assist smaller businesses in particular to explore sales abroad and especially in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland, which are still our most important export markets.

A substantial rise in business to these two huge markets could have a profound impact on the local economy and especially in rural communities.

Each month has a dedicated theme - breakfast is the theme for January. In addition, there will be several major events announced over the next few weeks. For instance, the Great Taste judging panel will be here in May to sample the best that we have to offer.

We are already working on our hugely popular Food and Drink Pavilion at the RUAS show at Balmoral Park, which is going to bigger and better than ever. Meanwhile, the unique Taste of Ulster artisan shop is open at Belfast International Airport and doing great business.

Belfast Telegraph