Year of Food and Drink 2016

Oral Answers to Questions — Economy – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 26th September 2016.

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Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP 3:15 pm, 26th September 2016

T5. Mr Poots asked the Minister for the Economy for an update on the Year of Food and Drink 2016. (AQT 230/16-21)

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

The Year of Food and Drink has been a huge success for Northern Ireland so far; we are not finished with it yet, as we are only nine months through. It is a really exciting initiative that has presented us with a great opportunity to celebrate Northern Ireland's food and drink. The Member, particularly with his farming background, will know that Northern Ireland has always had a fantastic food and drink offering, which has only improved over the last number of years. We have known that we have a great product in food and drink, but we have not, perhaps, let the world know that, and that is something that has been changing in the last number of years and has been highlighted by the Year of Food and Drink.

It was great to see that we are now being acknowledged by others. In the recent UK Great Taste Awards, Northern Ireland's food and drink won 303 gold medals — gold stars, sorry. Gold medals? That was more the recent Olympics and Paralympics, obviously. We got 303 gold stars, which is a fantastic achievement — the best ever — for the Northern Ireland food and drink sector. It shows that the Year of Food and Drink has helped to highlight and promote a wonderful sector that is absolutely key to our economy and tourism product and that, hopefully, will go from strength to strength in the years ahead.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

How will the success of the Year of Food and Drink be judged? I know that I am not much of a drinker, but I am not a bad eater —

[Laughter.]

— and I know that Northern Ireland has some excellent food.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

It has been successful already in lots of different ways. Look at the buy-in that there has been. This is a Food NI and Tourism NI initiative — a government-led initiative — but it has been supported by a large number of others, including some supermarkets and big food producers in Northern Ireland. People have really got on board with the whole Year of Food and Drink agenda and taken it to their hearts. Yes, they have used it to help promote their businesses, but they have also used it to promote the food and drink sector in Northern Ireland.

A number of objectives were set around increasing the level of visitor satisfaction, developing new food experiences and developing the skills in the sector. So, when the year is over, we will go back over those and test them. We do not want it to be just a one-off; we need to build on the success that we have already clearly had and, in some respects, make every year a Year of Food and Drink in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker 3:30 pm, 26th September 2016

Mr Middleton, we may not get to your supplementary question.