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Food & Drink

Lidl Northern Ireland Crunches New £11 Million Supply Deal with Newtownards Producer

Pictured celebrating the announcement is Enya Rooney, Senior Buyer at Lidl Northern Ireland, John McCann, Founder and CEO of Willowbrook Foods and Tanya Neilson, NPD & Hub Innovation Manager at Willowbrook Foods.

Lidl Northern Ireland has awarded Newtownards-based fresh food producer Willowbrook Foods an expanded supply deal worth £11 million – almost double its previous contract – to supply 25 new lines of fresh convenience foods across its network of 210 stores throughout the island of Ireland.

Established in 1968 by the McCann family, Willowbrook Foods is the largest salad and vegetable processing company in Ireland, operating from its two sites on the shores of Strangford Lough. The local company has been supplying Lidl Northern Ireland with premium bagged salads and fresh deli products since 2011.

The new contract with Lidl Northern Ireland represents an 83% boost on last year – taking the former £6 million annual contract to a cool £11 million – and will see 25 new product lines introduced across its premium range of ready meals, stir fry and deli salads.

Enya Rooney, Senior Buyer at Lidl Northern Ireland said:

“Lidl Northern Ireland has held a long-standing partnership with Willowbrook Foods and over the years we’ve seen the company enjoy exponential growth. As a proud supporter of local agri-food producers, we’re delighted to reaffirm our commitment to the partnership and provide a significant sales boost through this expanded new contract.

With a strong focus on new product development, Willowbrook Foods is continually innovating to introduce new lines in response to changing consumer demand. We’ve seen a real increase in demand for our fresh convenience foods range and we’re excited to now launch an expanded line of great tasting, home-grown salads, cold deli foods and stir fry meals to thousands of customers across the island of Ireland.

Through this new supply deal we’re thrilled to offer shoppers even more choice of fresh, quality convenience food at the same great value customers can expect from shopping with Lidl Northern Ireland.”

Headquartered in Killinchy, Willowbrook Foods opened its £5.5 million state-of-the-art production facility in 2011 to support its ambitious growth plans and enhance production capability. The site is also home to its dedicated New Product Development hub where it operates an innovation centre utilising the latest food production technology. In addition, the company operates a cooking facility at its site in Newtownards where it manufactures ready-meal products.

Lidl Northern Ireland crunches new £11 million supply deal with fresh food producer Willowbrook Foods: Pictured celebrating the announcement is Tanya Neilson, NPD & Hub Innovation Manager at Willowbrook Foods, Enya Rooney, Senior Buyer at Lidl Northern Ireland and John McCann, Founder and CEO of Willowbrook Foods

John McCann, Founder and CEO of Willowbrook Foods said,

“Since the early days Willowbrook Foods has been a leader in providing premium prepared fresh vegetables and salads, cooked and ready to cook products. Over the last 50 years we have focused on mastering our craft of growing the highest quality, great tasting vegetables and continually developing our product offering.

Key to our success is our established partnership with Lidl Northern Ireland. As the region’s fastest-growing supermarket, we’ve been able to realise our ambitious growth plans, break into new markets, reach new customers and grow our brand exponentially through the partnership.

Willowbrook Foods is delighted to secure this increased supply deal with Lidl Northern Ireland and embark on a new period of growth whilst providing its 300,000 weekly shoppers in the region with a fantastic new range of locally grown, quality products to enjoy.”

Since the beginning of its relationship with Willowbrook Foods in 2011, Lidl Northern Ireland’s supply deal has helped to create 100 new full-time roles, in addition to providing access to sales in the UK and Republic of Ireland markets.

Lidl Northern Ireland is a major supporter of local food suppliers.

An independent report into the economic impact of Lidl Northern Ireland’s operations revealed that the retailer spends at least £290 million annually with suppliers across the region while also supporting 3,500 jobs.

In 2020, Lidl Northern Ireland announced a £24 million contract with Fermanagh-based bakery, Crust & Crumb, to supply an expanded line of pizza products across more than 1,000 UK and Ireland stores whilst top Northern Ireland horticulturalist Greenisland Flowers secured a new supply deal with Lidl Northern Ireland to ship over four million stems of freshly cut tulips, lilies and scented stocks, building on their existing partnership worth more than £7.2 million.

Earlier this year Lidl Northern Ireland confirmed a new and expanded contract with Irwin’s Bakery after a successful 20-year partnership deal worth more than £50 million. Under the new supply deal, worth £2.7 million annually, the family-run bakery will continue to supply customer favourites including Nutty Krust batch bread, Irwin’s Veda malted loaf and Jammy Joey’s buns to Lidl stores across the island of Ireland.

In addition, Lidl Northern Ireland announced a new supply deal worth more than £500,000 with Antrim-based coffee producer, SlumberJack Coffee in 2021 to supply their premium Italian Espresso whole bean and ground coffee across all 210 Lidl stores within the island of Ireland.

Food & Drink

Castello Italia Brings a Taste of Italy To Carrickfergus

Since opening its doors in 2017 Castello Italia has delighted its customers with an array of Italian dishes with a modern Irish twist. 

And whilst many businesses shut up shop during lockdown, instead Castello Italia went through an ambitious rebrand which saw the lower floor transformed into a modern Pizzeria.

At the helm of this transformation was General Manager David Long, who saw an opportunity to expand his product offering. “Before I joined the business I had been living in Carrick and always thought Castello should be offering takeaway as well.

“Pizza was always very popular in the restaurant and in the café downstairs, but we always thought there should be an option to take it home or make it at home, we just weren’t sure how it was going to happen, so being forced into lockdown sped up this process,” said David.

This wasn’t an easy feat however, “in the summer of 2020 we remodelled both kitchens and knocked down walls to get our pizza oven from our first floor into our ground floor kitchen.” David said.

However the rebrand has allowed the restaurant to widen its offering with the ground floor restaurant now serving pizza for takeaway, the middle floor serving fine cuisine and the top floor acting as a private function room.

“The downstairs is friendlier for kids because it’s more relaxed in its décor and service.” Whilst the middle restaurant focuses on a carefully curated menu of Italian inspired dishes.

David who comes from a fine dining background states, “We’ve almost hit the nail on the head offering premium quality but not leaving people hungry. Italian food is comfort. It’s full of flavour, filling and makes you happy.

The restaurant also has a commitment to keeping everything local where possible. “Provenance is really important. We are using mostly local ingredients yet ensuring an authentic Italian taste. We work closely with local suppliers to guarantee we keep Northern Ireland’s world class products on par with our Italian inspiration.

“Our most popular dishes are the braised beef gnocchi, it’s a winter dish but it’s popular all year round. It features melt in your mouth braised beef with beautifully intense red wine sauce served with herb gnocchi. Truly mouth-watering. Then there is our Fettuccine Alfredo, which is a classic pasta dish of smoked chicken, Italian sausage and a parmesan cream sauce. During lockdowns we shared some of our secret recipes so everyone could recreate these at home,” said David.

David states that moving forward he hopes the top floor will be popular with tour groups visiting Carrickfergus; “it’s one of the best features, that provides a real private experience with amazing views over Belfast Lough.” Customers who are lucky enough to book a window table or sit on the balcony will experience exceptional views. 

Another highlight to come out of the first lockdown was the popularity of the restaurant’s ‘gelato’, a healthier alternative to ice-cream and a sweet treat perfect for summer.

“During the first lockdown we set up a new counter to sell gelato on the street and the place had never been busier. People were coming from all around, that was a really positive period for us considering.

“The gelato is very popular with kids, especially the dragon fruit sorbet and blue banana flavours because of the bright colours. We mix these together sometimes to create a unicorn flavour.” David said.

David believes that Carrickfergus is a very ‘up and coming’ region and whilst before lockdown people were choosing to go to Belfast to eat out, they are now choosing to embrace the local economy more than ever, so much so that it is essential to book your table in advance to avoid disappointment.

Learn more at: www.castelloitalia.co.uk

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Causeway Coast and Glens

5 Slow Food Causeway Events Happening In December

Enjoy good food alongside an unforgettable experience with Slow Food Causeway’s events happening in December.

Taste Causeway is an accredited Slow Food destination, one of only a handful of destinations in Ireland to be awarded the accolade by the global Slow Food Movement.

Originally founded in Italy during the 1980s to combine the regional traditions with the slow pace of life. Since then, the Slow Food movement has evolved worldwide and hopes to preserve the ‘unique culinary heritage’ of NI. 

Slow Food Causeway celebrates  the unique food and drink culture of the Causeway Coast. 

Here is a quick overview of  the  Slow Food Causeway events happening in December:

1. Gifts from the Kitchen by Broughgammon Farm

Sunday 5th December, 11am

There’s nothing quite like a homemade, edible gift to celebrate the festive season so Broughgammon Farm have gathered together some of their most beloved recipes for delicious and luxurious edible treats. In this class we will be making an array of delectable items, perfect for gifting or just to enjoy yourself! You’ll leave with plenty of ideas, recipes as well as treats that you will be making throughout the morning.

For more information go to https://www.broughgammon.com/events/gifts-from-the-kitchen/?occurrence=2021-12-05

2. A Taste of Mussenden by Mussenden Sea Salt

Thursday 9th December, 7pm – 10:30pm

An evening of luxury dining where sustainability meets great Slow Food taste on Thursday 9th December at Mussenden Temple. 

Mussenden Temple opened its doors for the first time on Friday 5th November, offering exclusive dining experiences. 

National Trust, in partnership with Mussenden Sea Salt, are back for a second time offering another opportunity this year to dine at one of Northern Ireland’s iconic landmarks.

The menu for the evening has been crafted by Paula McIntyre MBE, the President of Slow Food NI and her menu will feature a showcase of local food and drink producers from the Taste Causeway Network.

For more information go to https://www.tastecauseway.com/event/a-taste-of-mussenden-by-mussenden-seasalt/ 

3. Causeway Coast Foodie Tours Spirit of the Bann

18th and 31st December, 3:15pm – 5:15pm

The award winning Causeway Coast Foodie Tours are embracing the winter season by hosting you on a very special ‘The Spirit of the Bann’ river whiskey tasting experience along the picturesque river.

‘The Spirit of the Bann’ along with White River Charters are hosting a cosy afternoon full of winter inspired whiskey flavours accompanied by an array of tasty award-winning local Slow Food produce. 

Where better to celebrate our unique Slow Food food and drink heritage than via a journey on the River Bann alongside the beautiful site of Mountsandel, Coleraine.

For more information go to https://www.tastecauseway.com/event/slow-food-causeway-spirit-of-the-bann-whiskey-tasting-experience-by-causeway-foodie-tours-2/ 

4. North Supper Club by Ursa Minor at Glenshesk Barn

Saturday 18th December, 7pm to late

We’re all long overdue for a special, unique night out; get festive with us at our casual and relaxed evening with friends and enjoy a delicious feast, celebrating the best local produce with Ciara from Ursa Minor.  Enjoy three courses of beautiful seasonal food served under twinkling lights and candlelight in an unbelievably special location five minutes from Ballycastle.

After dinner we’re very excited to bring you some of the finest voices on the island right now; the stunning vocal harmonies of Lemoncello; superb Dublin poet & playwright Stephen James Smith & the enthralling experimental folk artist Joshua Burnside.

For more information go to  https://www.northfeast.co.uk/

5. Slow Food Christmas at The Arcadia

Sunday 19th December, 7pm – late

Join in on the festive cheer at The Arcadia with Slow Food Causeway director Paula McIntyre MBE where you will be taken on a festive culinary adventure.

Let your taste buds be blessed at Paula McIntyre’s Slow Food Christmas where she will showcase the finest of Taste Causeway’s European influenced produce such as Guiseppe Guisti Balsamic, Slow Food Presidia Red Cow parmesan cheese and charcuterie from Corndale Farm.

Guests who attend the Slow Food Christmas at The Arcadia will get to recreate Paula McIntyre MBE’s delicious recipes from the six-course Italian inspired menu.

For more information, go to https://www.tastecauseway.com/event/slow-food-causeway-christmas-at-the-arcadia/ 

The Causeway Coast and Glens is Northern Ireland’s first accredited Slow Food destination, Taste Causeway, the collaborative network of local food and drink businesses was awarded the accolade by the global Slow Food Movement following a rigorous assessment process.

To launch and celebrate this prestigious award Taste Causeway is running a six month programme of events, dining experiences, tours and special menus.

Taste Causeway is delivering Slow Food Causeway with funding from Tourism NI in partnership with Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council. 

For more information go to tastecauseway.com/slow-food-causeway or follow the hashtags #SlowFoodCauseway and #TasteCauseway

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