Bakery boss Brian recognised for contribution to food and drink sector

Companies in £4.9bn sector are honoured at biennial awards night run by NIFDA

NI Food and Drink Awards
Group of the night's main winners when quality, innovation and talent were on the menu at biggest ever NI Food and Drink Awards. Outstanding contribution winner Brian Irwin is pictured third from left at front

Bakery boss Brian Irwin has been recognised by his peers with a special award for his outstanding contribution to the north’s £4.9 billion food and drink sector over the last four decades.

The recognition came at the 2024 Northern Ireland Food and Drink Awards hosted by the NI Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) in front of a record 500 guests at Belfast’s Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Chairman of the Portadown-headquartered Irwin’s Bakery, NIFDA’s citation said that Brian played a crucial role in the modernising of the north’s bakery sector.

In 1994 his company relocated to a new purpose-built bakery at the Food Park in Craigavon, underlining to the wider food and drink industry that a family-owned company can reinvest, create new modernised facilities to the highest standards at a time of industry contraction, and go on to build a successful brand outside of Northern Ireland.

The citation went on: “The mark of a real leader in our industry is in understanding both the need to drive your own business forward, and to work with others to create a rising tide than can benefit our industry as a whole.

“For decades Brian has been a champion of Northern Ireland food and drink. He has worked with industry bodies like Food NI, the Stormont Union/Employer Engagement Forum, the NI Bakery Employers Council and of course NIFDA – of which he was a founding member, and which he has served as chair.

“To each of these organisations and his own business, he has brought his passion for the industry, a calm leadership style of building consensus, and a determination to lobby government effectively.”

Now in their 17th year, the biennial awards are widely recognised as a key indicator of quality and success, offering local companies the opportunity to present innovative, quality products in front of key customers, with major retailers Asda, Lidl NI, Marks and Spencer, and Tesco among the expert judging panel.

Securing awards for best new products were McColgan’s Gourmet Pork & Pancetta Sausage Rolls, Wilson’s Country Mashed Potatoes, Milgro OniT!, Cripsy Onions and Moocha Kombucha for Mixed Berry, while other winners included Big Pot Co, Victor Hazelton and Chloe Moore (both from Dunbia), Favourit Cajun Seasoning, Lakeland Dairies, ABP Group, Avondale Foods and Coca-Cola HBC.

NIFDA executive director Michael Bell said “In Northern Ireland we have some of the most innovative and successful food and drink companies in the world, and our industry supports some 113,000 jobs across the supply chain and generates £4.9bn value-added each year, which is something worth shouting about.”