Henderson Wholesale has announced 24 of Northern Ireland’s top food suppliers and butchers as finalists in the Fresh Innovation Awards 2019, with organisers commending the companies for continuing to grow through uncertain conditions.

Now in its seventh year, the Fresh Innovation Awards are held by Henderson Wholesale on the penultimate day of the Balmoral Show, and reward the local farmers, growers and food companies which supply to their SPAR and EUROSPAR stores across NI.

Categories include Excellence in Product Innovation, Young Agri-food Innovator and Own Brand Product of the Year, all independently judged by a panel of business, food and agricultural experts who have noted the growth of the finalists through a challenging year.

Nigel Dugan, Trading Controller at Henderson Wholesale and Chair of the judging panel noted; “with the extreme uncertainty of whether or not we’d get a deal passed for Brexit, and in particular how this will impact the fresh foods industry here, it has been a challenging year for our local food companies.

“However, the contingencies and innovation that has been set in place by farmers, growers and suppliers in Northern Ireland knows no bounds and we’ve been very pleased to see the amount of growth experienced in the 2018/19 year of trading.”

Established in 1897, Henderson Group has been working with local food producers across the island of Ireland since its inception, and more recently has set the standard for local sourcing here, partnering with both long-standing and new artisanal companies to produce meal solutions from locally sourced ingredients, farms and fields.

Now, Henderson Group, which owns the SPAR, EUROSPAR, VIVO, VIVOXTRA and VIVO Essentials brands in Northern Ireland, sources over 75% of its fresh produce on the island of Ireland. A figure that has not regressed since the outcome of the 2016 referendum.

Neal Kelly, Fresh Foods Director at Henderson Group added; “For decades, Henderson Wholesale has maximised local sourcing at every opportunity, but the uncertainty the Brexit process has brought the industry has made cause for scenario planning across the business, which includes our fresh food suppliers, to ensure as little disruption for them, our retailers and our shoppers as possible.

“We are looking forward to joining the agri-food and business community from across Ireland at this year’s Balmoral Show, and honouring the innovative and steadfast achievements by our local suppliers, farmers and growers at the Fresh Innovation Awards for the seventh year.”

The categories for the Henderson Wholesale Fresh Innovation Awards 2019 are; Own Brand Supplier of the Year, The Tomorrow Matters Award, Young Agri Food Innovator, Excellence in Regional Delivery, Excellence in Product Innovation, Overall Supplier of the Year and In-Store Butcher of the Year (full shortlist in notes to editors).

They have been expertly judged by food writer Sam Butler, Head of Food Technology at CAFRE, Joy Alexander; Irish News Business Editor Gary McDonald and Dr Lynsey Hollywood, Ulster University Business School’s Agri-Food Business Development Centre Manager. Michele Shirlow MBE, CEO of Food NI also joins the panel for the first time.

The event will see the best in the business come together for the awards ceremony and breakfast at the Balmoral Show on Friday 17th May 2019.