It’s time to get a taste of the food heartland

Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, Cllr Darryn Causby
Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, Cllr Darryn Causby

How well do you know Northern Ireland’s agri-food sector? Do you know, for instance, which part of Northern Ireland is home to 18 Great Food Taste Award winners and 12 Irish Food Awards?

Or which part of Northern Ireland has not one, but two brands which enjoy special EU status because of their world renowned reputation?

Which area is also home to some of Northern Ireland’s best known and largest food processors - firms such as Tayto, Moy Park, Irwin’s Bakery, Cottage Catering, Linwoods, Fane Valley, White’s and Wilson’s Country?

The answer is, of course the new borough of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon. And this year we’ll be celebrating not only our two most famous brands – the Armagh Bramley Apple and Lough Neagh Eels which enjoy European protection – but a vibrant and extensive agri-food sector which ranges from global operators to artisan producers. To help achieve this, the council has branded the area as the Food Heartland of Northern Ireland.

Agri-food is a major contributor to Northern Ireland’s economy and the NI Executive has significant plans to boost the sector. According to the ‘Going of Growth’ strategy there is an ambition to grow sales by 60% to £7billion by 2020, along with a 15% growth in employment to 115,000. Even more ambitiously, there’s an expectation that sales outside Northern Ireland could be boosted by 75% to £4.5 billion, also by 2020.

Given the depth of the supply chain already operating in the borough and the outward looking ethos of local producers, the council believes that its Food Heartland campaign can build upon these strong foundations and help the sector achieve a step change.

As part of the initiative we’ve created a Food Heartland Forum which is working closely with Food NI and Tourism NI to profile the scale, quality and diversity of the area’s produce. The Forum, which is made up of local producers, council and industry support bodies is working together to profile the excellence of our local produce and to support further development of the sector.

Throughout 2016 the Food Heartland Forum will be delivering an Export Support Programme, a series of workshops with producers to encourage growth, a specific programme to champion the unique Armagh Bramley and a Food Heartland Awards ceremony to celebrate the best that the Borough has to offer.

We also want to encourage new and existing producers and processors to look at all the advantages of locating in the borough – from its excellent strategic location with motorway and rail connections, a wide choice of spaces zoned for development and the knowledge that investors will be joining Northern Ireland’s largest agri-food cluster.

This is also, of course, Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink – “a celebration of everything delicious about this place”.

In the borough we hope that, as the ‘Food Heartland of Northern Ireland’, this year as many people as possible will enjoy a taste of what we have to offer.