In Farm Week 7 July, Sam Butler looks at some recent innovations in the local food industry from both large and smaller companies which serve to highlight the creativity and customer focus underpinning Northern Ireland’s biggest manufacturing industry and key exporter. Smart ideas drive growth in vibrant food

High-end UK retailer Waitrose recently launched the first chicken products naturally enriched with healthy omega-3 with the help of Moy Park and Devenish Nutrition, two of Northern Ireland’s most successful and innovative food businesses.

A much smaller business at the forefront of innovation is Harnett’s Culinary Oils in Waringstown, Co. Down, a pioneer in the development of Hemp Oil that’s also rich in omegas 3 6 and 9 and was the first to launch rapeseed oil that’s now widely used by leading chefs here and in the Republic of Ireland. The company has also introduced an Irish sea salt, Duvillaun, harvested from a remote Atlantic island off the west coast of Ireland that is a natural condiment for seasoning dishes.

 

Waitrose used chicken specially produced by Moy Park, Northern Ireland’s biggest food business, along with Devenish Nutrition, an international leader in animal nutrition. Moy Park, a £1.4 billion business, is based at Craigavon in county Armagh while Devenish Nutrition is located in Belfast and operates worldwide. Moy Park feeds the chickens on a special diet containing algae that is naturally high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids to help maintain normal heart, brain and vision functions developed in association with Devenish.

The range of products include whole chickens, breast fillets and thigh meat. Waitrose describes the new products as a response to concerns among consumers not getting enough omega-3 in their diets because of a dislike of oily fish, a particular reluctance among children and young people. Dr. Joanne Lunn, Waitrose Nutritionist, says: “This chicken will make a really useful contribution to our customers' omega 3 intake as we know it can be hard to consume enough omega 3 from other sources, especially if you are not a fan of fish.” Justin Coleman, Moy Park Agriculture Development Manager, continues, “Food and farming innovation are important focus areas for Moy Park and we are proud to be the first poultry company in the UK to produce chicken enriched with omega 3. Including omega 3 in the chickens' natural diet makes this already healthy food even healthier.”

Another recent innovation is the development of a smoked eel product by the fishermen’s co-operative on Lough Neagh at Toomebridge in Co. Antrim, one of Northern Ireland’s three EU protected named products. The new smoked eels are being marketed in the Republic and Britain by the co-operative. The meat industry, Northern Ireland’s biggest agri-food sector, has long been a leader in innovation…and continues to be.

Linden Foods in Dungannon, Co. Tyrone has pioneered a broad range of salt aged meat for key clients including Marks and Spencer. Linden also created a distinctive ‘Turf and Clover’ brand of high-end beef products for international markets especially Germany. Linden owned, Kettyle Irish Foods at Lisnaskea in Co. Fermanagh is at the forefront of dry-aging techniques for beef and has developed a successful product using salt moss to bring out the flavours. Hannan Meats, of course, has won a clutch of awards for its guanciale, Himalayan salt-aged beef and the recently introduced sugar pit cured bacon. C&J Meats in Loughgall, Co. Armagh has introduced a new Sam’s Farm brand of beef using animals selected by a leading farmer and one of the two co-owners of the business. Artisan Finnebrogue in Downpatrick has developed healthier sausages including Butternut Squash and Smoked Paprika for M&S.

Another sector ‘alive’ with innovation is dairy, the second biggest agri-food sector. Dale Farm, the sector’s biggest company, has a longstanding track record of innovative R&D, the most recent example of which is the introduction of Protein Milk, an enhanced milk product. Dale Farm, in addition, has revitalised and rebranded Fivemiletown Creamery in Co. Tyrone, a leader in speciality cheeses. Abernethy Butter in Dromore, Co. Down has achieved success in Britain with its three handmade butter products. Four smaller firms are helping to create a reputation for Northern Ireland in artisan cheese. They are blue producers Mike’s Fancy Cheese in Newtownards, Co. Down with its Young Buck, Kearney Blue in Castlereagh, Co. Down, Dark Mountain in Dungiven, Co. Derry, which has produced four cheeses, one coated in ash and another washed in craft beer from Northbound in Derry, as well as City Cheese in Millisle, Co. Down, now producing three Dutch-style cheeses. Will Taylor’s Glastry Farm Ice Cream in Kircubbin has teamed up with two other smaller businesses, SB Bells in Belfast and Brambleberry Jams in Lisburn to create two original ice cream flavours – Cappuccino with SD Bell and Chocolate with Salted Caramel with Brambleberry Jams