“And it will leave a tremendous legacy. As a matter of principle, this must be built on for the future,” she added.
Shirlow confirmed that a budget of just over £2m had been made available by the Stormont Executive to fund the celebration year initiative.
“By the end of June, the public relations’ payback alone had been valued at £10m, and the year is far from over. This month will see TESCO host its Taste Festival in Belfast while the BBC’s Good Food Show programme is coming to Northern Ireland in October,” said Shirlow.
“Belfast Restaurant Week will be held in October while, in the run up to Christmas, 10 food companies will participate in the European market that is held annually in the grounds of the City Hall.
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“The year of celebration has been a tremendous success, and, to a large extent, this is due to the tremendous buy-in from the food industry for the entire initiative. But we need to maintain the momentum that has been generated.”
Shirlow believes that food tourism can become a significant driver for the local economy during the period ahead.
“Here in Northern Ireland we have a great story to tell, where food is concerned, and this core message is already getting out there. Thousands of visitors now come to Northern Ireland courtesy of the numerous liners and cruise boats that regularly stop-off in Belfast. When these people return home they are tremendous ambassadors for the local food industry and the unique tastes of Northern Ireland.”
Wilson’s Country managing director Lewis Cunningham agrees: “Demand for our potatoes from hotels and catering companies increases prior to a cruise liner docking in Belfast,” he said.
“The upsurge in visitor numbers to Northern Ireland over recent years has boosted the fortunes of the food industry to a significant degree, and we need to build on all of this for the future.
“All of this is good news for local farmers, who supply the vast bulk of the primary produce.”