It's awards season and Irish food and drink producers continue to excel
The annual Irish Quality Food and Drink Awards celebrating the best in retail, wholesale and foodservice food and drink products available in Ireland, took place in a virtual ceremony last November.
The event was attended by the food industry’s key players including the finalist retailers, wholesalers, foodservice, own label and small producers, keen to learn if their products had been awarded a prestigious badge of excellence.
During a rigorous judging process, the independent panel of food and drink experts covered innovation, taste, flavour, texture, aroma, ingredients, provenance, packaging, presentation, and price point, while putting each entry through its paces to produce the list of results.
The 2021 winners included Lidl, who picked up the Retailer of the Year sponsored by Dairymaid, for an exceptional performance across all the food and drink categories. Finnebrogue Artisan, from Co. Down, won Product of the Year for their Naked Smoked Streaky Bacon; Aldi’s Ardfallen Blended Irish Whiskey from Sazerac Ireland was crowned Drink Product of the Year, while Aldi also received the Own Label of the Year Award for its Specially Selected Range.
Meanwhile, the Foodservice Product of the Year went to Meath’s Meade Farm Group’s Potato Starch, and the Supplier of the Year Award was given to Monaghan-based premium duck producer Silver Hill Duck. The Good Choice Product of the Year was awarded to Feighery’s Farm Irish Beetroot Juice from Offaly.
The 2021 Small Producer Award, sponsored by Dunnes Stores Simply Better, gives small producers the opportunity to launch a product within the Simply Better Range, and was given to two exceptional products: Drummond House Garlic Scape Sauce from Louth, and Cork-based Sage Restaurant, Buttermilk Ranch.
The judges were impressed with the quality of 2021 finalist products, especially considering the constant challenges presented by the pandemic. Beckie Dart, director, Irish Quality Food and Drink Awards said: “Although it has not been possible to run our live awards in 2021, we were delighted to be back with our live judging and product awards, celebrating just some of the incredible people and produce throughout the island of Ireland. Whilst 2021 has continued to bring challenges, we have been astounded by the level of innovation and continued excellence throughout the food and drink sector. Congratulations to all our 2021 finalists and winners. I look forward to seeing more great products – as well as seeing you in person – in 2022.” To see the full list of winners, visit: irish.qualityfoodawards.com
ABP won an impressive 22 awards for its meat products at the Irish Quality Food and Drink Awards, including nine Gold, five Silver and eight Bronze across eight different categories, including the awards’ special Christmas categories. ABP was the only producer awarded gold in the four Beef Steak award categories and the Joint category. The company’s Specially Selected 40 Day Matured Irish Angus 3 Rib Roast, produced by ABP Cahir, received the Christmas Product of the Year and Christmas Meat and Fish awards.
Dave O’Connell, European Commercial Director, ABP said: “ABP is incredibly proud to have, once again, achieved success at the Irish Quality Food and Drink Awards. These awards recognise the very best of the Irish food and drinks industry, and to receive 22 awards is a ringing endorsement of the care and dedication of our staff and our farmer suppliers, who work together to deliver best-in-class Irish beef to our customers.”
This winning haul follows ABP’s success at the World Steak Challenge – achieving 27 medals – and 14 stars at the Great Taste Awards as well as 11 awards at Blas na hÉireann.
The FreeFrom Food Awards can help consumers to navigate the ‘free from’ category. Here, some of the recent winners share why they are good for business, too.
The FreeFrom Food Awards Ireland 2021 took place last December with over 500 entries whittled down to 40 winners. Categories in the awards are diverse, ranging from pasta to ready meals, cakes to crisps and bread products to breakfast cereals. Gold, Silver and Bronze awards are granted, along with a Merit badge for products considered to be of high quality by the judges.
According to the awards founder, John Burke, the winners’ list highlights the best of the ‘free from’ industry, from small to large producers. “There’s a fantastic list of winning entries, which undergo great debate and consideration from our judges.”
The judging panel is assembled from various professions including dietitians, parents, coeliacs, nutritionists, chefs, bakers, and bloggers. “The interest in the industry is growing all the time,” Burke says. “Judges look at the technical aspect, the ingredients, the ‘free from-ness’ and sometimes it’s simply down to amazing taste.”
With entries from the 32 counties, the growth of the ‘free from’ area continues in Ireland, as manufacturers respond to gluten-free, dairy-free and wheat-free among the 14 allergens that limit consumer’s diets.
Product of range of the year went to Mash Direct for its range of over 40 farm fresh gluten-free products. Innovation awards went to Dan & Monstro for its range of fresh stir-in sauces with hidden vegetables; and Monaghan Foods for its meat-free mince. “The ability to enter and win awards for many producers impacts positively on sales and is essential to us as coeliacs and as food lovers, ensuring we are safely catered for.”
We spoke to some of this year’s winners about the importance of the awards to Irish producers, and the consumers they are creating products for.
Irish farm-produced crisp maker, Keogh’s Farm scooped two awards in the crisp category for its Irish Atlantic Sea Salt and Irish Cider Vinegar, as well as its Irish Atlantic Sea Salt Flavours.
Along with home-grown potatoes from the family farm, Keogh’s source from Irish family businesses in the interests of supporting local and sustainability. The Irish Atlantic Sea salt comes from the O’Neill Family on the Beara Peninsula in West Cork and the cider vinegar from a local Irish farmer, David Llewellyn, in Lusk, Co. Dublin.
According to Tom Keogh: “As our crisps go from crop to crisp and only include the very best of Irish ingredients, awards like these really illustrate how seriously we take quality, local, home-grown ingredients which result in the best tasting premium product. Most importantly, being ‘free from’ doesn’t mean a product has to compromise on taste – this is what keeps our ‘free from’ customers so loyal.”
Tom continues: “Awards have been an integral part of gaining recognition for the quality of our crisps across the world … the stamp of approval really resonates with consumers even before they open a packet!”
Keogh’s Crisps continue to thrive overseas and 2021 saw their entry into Waitrose stores in the UK, while expansion across the United States continues at a fast pace. Keogh’s is well established, too, in the Middle East and Asia markets.
Gluten-free baked goods company, BFree won a Bronze award for its BFree Burger Buns in the Bread products category. “We’ve won awards in the IFFA in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 and now 2021!” Judith McQuillan, international marketing director at BFREE tells us. “It’s an honour to win at the Irish FreeFrom Awards; Ireland is our home market and the Irish ‘free from’ consumers have been integral to our success and growth over the last decade. Winning at these awards reminds us that we’re more committed than ever to bringing the world delicious, top quality, gluten and wheat-free products.”
According to Judith, awards such as these also help the consumer to navigate the ‘free from’ category. “There has been massive growth in the ‘free from’ market, and the variety of choice between products is now huge. Awards such as the Irish FreeFrom Awards ensure that consumers are choosing products that not only deliver on function and nutrition, but also on taste and enjoyment. As an Irish brand we’re proud to produce all our products on the island of Ireland.”
“To be recognised within the market as award-winning gives ‘free from’ consumers a signpost that BFree delivers top quality products, that can be enjoyed every day. They also play a huge part in our sell-in story, whether it’s a new listing, a new store, or even a new market, the credibility that these awards add to our brand can’t be emphasised enough.”
BFree was established in Ireland over 10 years ago and now is available in the UK, Europe, the US and Australia. “The UK and US are huge growth markets for us and we’re also looking to launch into Canada in 2022.”