Stalwart of food industry honoured with prestigious award at Balmoral Show

Brian Irwin (right) from Irwin's Bakery receives the Contribution to Agri-Food Industry Award while Tim Graham from Graham's Bakery shows off the Young Agri-Food Innovator Award. Included are Neal Kelly, Henderson Wholesale fresh foods director, and awards host Jo Scott. Photo:Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye
Gary McDonald Business Editor

BRIAN Irwin, chairman of Irwin’s Bakery in Portadown, has received a special award in recognition of his decades-long contribution to the north's burgeoning agri-food sector.

The industry veteran has not only pushed forward and diversified the family business to successfully break the GB market, but has done the same with the food and drinks industry in Northern Ireland thanks to his work with the NI Food & Drink Association.

And he was the unanimous choice of the judges overseeing the revamped Henderson Wholesale Fresh Innovation Awards, which celebrate the firm's fresh food suppliers, farmers and growers rewarded for their product innovation, accessibility of goods and their sustainable practices.

Mr Irwin also picked up the Overall Supplier of the Year Award for Irwin’s Bakery, which has been trading with Hendersons since the early 1900s.

Tim Graham of Graham’s Bakery in Dromore also became the first ever recipient of the Young Agri-Food Innovator Award, a fresh category for the all-new awards.

The judges agreed that Tim was excelling in new product development for the company (he recently collaborated with the wholesaler to produce an exclusive line of celebration cakes for the new Occasions range developing throughout Henderson branded stores).

Other winners at the breakfast ceremony held as part of the 150th Balmoral Show included T.S Foods Ltd for Excellence in Product Innovation for its Ann’s Kitchen range of fresh and convenient fish meals; and Hovis, which won the Excellence in Regional Delivery award for maintaining a 99.98 per cent service level when delivering more than 50 bread and bakery products, six days a week, directly to the entire network of Spar and EuroSpar retailers in Northern Ireland.

PRM Group, one of Henderson Wholesale’s leading fresh brand suppliers, took home The Tomorrow Matters Award which is a nod to the alignment of its CSR practices with its suppliers.

Ballyclare pork producers Fred C Robinsons were presented with the Own Brand Supplier of the Year gong, reflecting the company’s increase in sales of 13 per cent of the Spar’s enjoy local range of pork sausages.

In the first Local Butchery Awards to be presented at the event, Henderson Retail honoured four butchery concessions who scored highest during audits which took place at the start of the year. The audits focused on quality, range, presentation, innovation, flair, availability and creativity.

McMurray’s Butcher at EuroSpar Templepatrick, H&J Carnduff Butchers in EuroSpar Brackenvale on Saintfield Road, and Haye’s Family Butchers, from Spar Greystone in Antrim were Highly Commended in the category.

Quail’s Butchery in the Dromore Road Spar store Banbridge took home the title of In-Store Butcher of the Year, with Joe Quail accepting the award on behalf of the team.

Neal Kelly, fresh foods director at Henderson Group, said: “We also wanted to make our annual celebration of our fresh food suppliers one to remember, and we've received such a positive response from the suppliers we work with.

"We strive to ensure we are sourcing locally first and foremost as we have some of the finest produce in the world on our own doorstep. There is simply no excuse to be looking elsewhere. We are very lucky to live and work in a place with such incredible talent for food innovation.”

Paddy Doody, sales & marketing director at Henderson Group added; “We have had a fantastic few days at Balmoral Show with the Spar brand as Platinum Sponsor. We enjoy being at the heart of the biggest agri show in Northern Ireland as our stores are in the heart of all our communities throughout Northern Ireland.

“Spar provides a convenience channel and platform for our local suppliers to thrive, to learn and collaborate, and this is no more evident than in the companies and individuals we’ve celebrated this morning. We are delighted to have enjoyed such a successful eighth year of sponsoring the Balmoral Show.”

Jo Scott, BBC Northern Ireland’s Home Ground presenter, hosted the awards which saw over 100 members of the local food industry, Henderson Group board of directors and Ulster Guild of Spar come together for the awards ceremony and breakfast, made up from producers including Ballygarvey Eggs, Boconnell Mushrooms, Connolly Meats, Henry Denny, Lacpatrick Dairy, Total Produce, Fred C Robinson, Allied Bakeries and Armagh Apple Juice.

An independent judging panel made up of food, agri and business experts scrutinised over 40 entries from around 20 local companies.

The judges included Freda Magill, former chair of the Ulster Farmers’ Union; Joy Alexander, head of technology at CAFRE; food writer Sam Butler; Dr Lynsey Hollywood, head of the Agri-Food Business Development Centre at Ulster University; and Irish News business editor Gary McDonald.

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