Cream of the crop celebrated at 15th annual food and drink awards

Nigel Walsh, director (corporate and commercial banking) at Ulster Bank, presents Fane Valley chief executive Trevor Lockhart with the outstanding contribution to the industry award at the 15th NI Food and Drink Awards.

TREVOR Lockhart, chief executive of the Fane Valley farming co-operative, was honoured for his outstanding contribution to the industry at the 15th running of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Awards in Belfast.

He has spend 12 years at the helm of what is the largest trading farming co-operative in the north, whose diverse range of business interests includes red meat processing, animal feed manufacturing, oat milling, animal by-product processing and the supply of farm requisites.

A much-respected figure in Northern Ireland's hugely successful agri-food business, he overseas an organisation employing 2,500 people across 24 sites in Britain, Ireland and Belgium.

Organised by the NI Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) and supported by Ulster Bank, the awards are recognised as a crucial measure of commercial success for food and drink manufacturers and processors.

With major retailers, government officials and industry leaders in attendance, the event in the Crowne Plaza, hosted by Jo Scott, also offered companies a unique opportunity to showcase their commitment to excellence in front of industry stakeholders and customers.

Joint winners in the Ulster Bank best new product in a large company category went jointly to Linden Foods for its four lamb loin with honey roasted parsnips and Finnebrogue Artisan for its naked unsmoked back bacon.

Mash Direct picked up the award for best new product in a medium company for beer battered onion rings while Cloughbane Farm Foods won the small company category with its spicy lentil and root vegetable casserole. Other winners included Kestrel Foods in recognition of the introduction of its Forest Feast fruit ball range.

NIFDA executive director Michael Bell said: “When it comes to innovation, quality and commercial success, Northern Ireland's food and drink industry is truly world leading.

“These awards are a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the sector's achievements and to showcase those companies whose products are putting Northern Ireland on the map as a centre of food and drink excellence.

“This is the 15th time we've held these awards, and in the history of the event they've never been staged during such tumultuous times. But this event is proof, if it were needed, of how resilient our industry is.

“Tonight's winners should be rightly proud of their achievements and we look forward to celebrating their continued success.”

Nigel Walsh, director of corporate & commercial banking at Ulster Bank, added: “Food and drink is a core part of the Northern Ireland economy and it's a fundamentally important sector for us.

“The energy, effort and commitment of all those who entered this year's awards shows that the sector has the talent and resilience to continue its growth and development.” Full list of award winners:

:: Best new product (large company) Linden Foods and Finnebrogue Artisan (joint winners). highly commended - Dale Farm.

:: Bank best new product (medium company) - Mash Direct.

:: Bank best new product (small company) - Cloughbane Farm Foods. Highly commended - Echlinville Distillery and the Big Pot Co.

:: Service sector award - Gilfresh Produce. Highly commended - Linden Foods and Rademon Estate Distillery.

:: Supply chain excellence award - ABP. Highly commended - Foyle Food Group.

:: Best International or GB product launch - Kestrel Foods. Highly commended - Dale Farm and Linden Foods.

:: Food safety champion award - Hilary Faith (Pritchitts).

:: Outstanding contribution award - Trevor Lockhart (chief executive Fane Valley).

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