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Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough has now firmly established itself as the Food Heartland of Northern Ireland. It is home to an abundance of passionate producers and quality creators, and during NI Year of Food & Drink 2016 we took every opportunity to champion the sector and the great people driving it forward.
➢ Home to over 8,000 VAT registered businesses.
➢ Economic output is in the region of £2.7 billion, which is 9.4 per cent of Northern Ireland’s total output.
➢ Council remains committed to business development and growth.
➢ Our target is to create 2,020 new jobs by 2020 and we are on course to achieve this.
The Food Heartland Forum
To harness the potential of Northern Ireland Food and Drink 2016, the Food Heartland Forum was created in partnership with Council, local producers and key organisations including Food NI and Southern Regional College. Importantly the agenda is driven by the private sector and that’s why it works.
Together, our message is this region is vibrant and outward-looking with a strong international focus and a wealth of exporting knowledge. The Food Heartland supports innovation and entrepreneurship in the agri-food and hospitality sectors. This borough is open for business on a global basis.
Food Heartland Hospitality Forum
This Forum, driven by top award-winning and passionate chefs in the area, builds on the success of the Food Heartland brand to bring our story of food and drink full circle from producers to plate. The Hospitality Forum continues to be very successful with their main raison d’être to show visitors the journey from field to fork. Our chefs are passionate about finding the best local produce, learning everything there is to know about it, and sharing that with visitors to their restaurants and eateries.
Recipe for success
The Council listened and heard what was needed, and together working with the industry was the first area to launch the Northern Ireland Year of Food & Drink in January 2016.
As a result of that partnership working, the Food Heartland Forums and Food Heartland brand have proved to be great platforms for showcasing local produce as well as encouraging the local hospitality sector to source and champion local produce on menus. Chefs and producers are now collaborating and working together.
With the Food Heartland Awards in May, local industry stars were recognised and acknowledged, with the agri-food and hospitality business commitment celebrated within the borough. Showcasing the borough as a food and drink centre for excellence locally, regionally and internationally.
Inspirational workshops were introduced and hosted with guest speakers including beer and cider critic, Pete Brown, Master Chef judge and food critic, Charles Campion and most recently, Victoria Baker, John Foster.
Council also funded the Food Heartland Export Programme, giving 21 local producers a route to market and helping them develop business plans.
Inspiring the next generation
The producers and chefs of the borough are passionate about food and drink and are committed to ensuring expertise and knowledge is harnessed and the Food Heartland area continues for generations to come. Recently more than 350 school children from the area took part in a careers showcase hosted by the Food Heartland.
The three-day event showed Year 10 students the variety of roles working with food and drink in the agri-food, tourism and hospitality sectors and encouraged them to seriously consider a career in the industries. Students had to source, produce and market a product. A mock supermarket, mobile kitchen and cookery demonstrations from award-winning chefs, as well as industry professionals from a wide range of sectors, were all on hand. It’s in response to a call from chefs involved in the Food Heartland Hospitality Forum, established last year, that the industry is crying out for new, quality talent.
The council event also involved Young Enterprise NI and Southern Regional College, where Barry Smyth is a lecturer in hospitality, he says: “We’ve had a 20 per cent drop in students applying for catering courses over the past two years, which is going to seriously impact the hospitality sectors.
“We want to show young people there are plenty of jobs in agri-food and hospitality that don’t just involve being a farmer, a waiter or chef. There’s food production, accountancy, marketing roles and we need to engage kids early on to help them make choices for their futures at events like this.”
Simon Dougan, owner of Yellow Door Deli and part of the Food Heartland Forums, helped organise the three-day event and adds: “We wanted to make it as interactive and engaging as possible so we are really giving the students a taste of what it’s like to work in food industries.
“It’s a hands-on industry so we had hands-on activities to develop a food product, source local ingredients and work out costings, design packaging and bring the product to market. It’s hard as a business owner to grow if there aren’t students coming through, so we’re often forced to train staff on the job. These events not only show kids what opportunities there are for them, but how to get there.”
Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough, Councillor Garath Keating says: “We have here a Food Heartland bursting with fantastic flavours, freshness and unrivalled produce and we want to encourage the next generation of that success story. Even though 2016 was NI Year of Food and Drink, this borough is the region’s biggest and best area for quality agri-food production. In order to maintain and continue to grow that reputation we need to demonstrate to our industry professionals our ongoing commitment to that important sector.”
Council will continue to work together in partnership through the Forums, growing the hospitality and tourism offering alongside the agri-food sector.
Council is at present taking stock of our Year of Food & Drink and gathering feedback from industry, and key stakeholders. This feedback is vital in helping shape a three year action plan to ensure we create a legacy from 2016 and that we continue to support food and drink so our economy can prosper.
Northern Ireland has embraced the Food Heartland brand. With pride, we have shown that our producers and chefs are the life blood of this region; the industry has a steady pulse of productivity and we have outstanding places to eat and drink. Together, our passionate producers and quality creators remain firmly at the heart of the Food Heartland.
Council is committed to make the local economy our number one priority and that’s exactly what we have done and continue to do.
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council
T: 0300 300 900