Year of Food and Drink a massive success story
2016 culinary campaign significantly widens Northern Ireland's profile, with positive PR value generated worth around £41m after initial target of £10m
The last 12 months has brought big gains not just for our visitors and the tourism and hospitality industry, but for the food and drink and agri-food sectors, for export sales, food businesses, the public, and indeed the food and drink profile of NI at home, internationally and in online.
It was a year in which we brought our food stories, food heritage and food and drink culture fully alive, and shared them with visitors and residents alike in new and inventive ways.
The NI Year of Food and Drink created and delivered a first-class opportunity to tell the world, tell our visitors and convince ourselves about the richness of our traditional recipes, regional specialities, innovative products and exciting culinary experiences.
It has demonstrated clearly that we have a food and drink sector with genuine global potential and that Northern Ireland's culinary offering is very much something to be proud of.
Nothing else tells the story of Northern Ireland's culture, heritage, people and landscape like food and drink. It puts 'our place' on to the plate or into a glass in a very positive, unique and genuine way. When authentic local food and drink experiences are presented to visitors it provides a key element of their holiday experience and creates a reason to come back in the future.
And of course, the real and vital impact that these experiences make in the tourism economy is easily understood when we realise that one third of what our visitors spend is on food and drink.
2016 significantly widened Northern Ireland's profile, sending a signal to the world that we are a food destination ready to do business on an international stage. By the end of November the positive PR value generated stood at £41m against an initial target of £10m.
Importantly, this coverage was not just here at home but in key markets such as Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland, the US and Europe. These figures are good value in anybody's language. Northern Ireland's food and drink producers won a total of 303 gold stars, a fantastic achievement that illustrates how the Year of Food and Drink has helped to highlight and promote the sector. It was very fitting also that Peter Hannan, the Meat Merchant, became the Supreme Champion for the second time, the only business to achieve this.
Such results couldn't have been better timed, and indeed they were an important tribute to the pure natural quality of Northern Ireland's produce.
Tourism, of course, was central to this initiative and one of our key objectives was to increase visitor satisfaction levels. The outcomes are reading extremely positively, with overall satisfaction levels rising from 60% to a highly impressive 83%.
Right from the start of this initiative, from the initial planning stage, there was a collective will to deliver it in partnership.
Government departments, local authorities, the food and drink sector and tourism businesses large and small have all worked extremely well together to make the year a fantastic success.
In conclusion, we should all reflect on a job well done, savour the very best of our locally-produced food and drink, and truly celebrate the successes of the Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink.
- Terence Brannigan is chairman of Tourism NI