Blas na hÉireann: 10 Years, 10 Trends
Blas na hEireann’s Chairperson and founder, Artie Clifford has gathered a lot of knowledge about the Irish food and drink scene in the past decade. Blas na hEireann are the biggest blind-tasted food awards on the island of Ireland. They started with scarcely 400 entries and the entry level has increased seven fold in the 10 years since the awards began. So, what changes have there been since 2007?
1 September 2017
- More categories
The categories have grown in each of the 10 years because of the sheer diversity of what is entered. Oils, for example, were added as a category as we saw the growth in the numbers of companies producing rapeseed oil for the table. That category has now been divided into two sub categories of oils and flavoured/infused oils. In the first year we had 36 categories. Now, 10 years later, we have 120 including sub-categories.
- More artisan producers
We have always had an even division of entries between large and small producers but in the early years, the growth of entries could be seen as the growth of start-up businesses in the recession. People went back to basics and saw food as a growing sector.
That growth in the number of small producers has also led to more retailer collaboration with them. They have recognised the fact that customers want to support local and to know who is making their food and where their food is coming from.
- More networking between producers
Part of our mission statement is to create a network of producers across the island. We want them to go home from the awards weekend with more than just the accreditation but also armed with a better insight the industry and new relationships with fellow producers, press and buyers.
In the 10 years we have worked hard to build relationships with food producers across Ireland, some of whom were at the very beginning of building their business. It is important for Blas to help these producers in whatever way it can to grow and develop into the strong businesses and well-known names that they are today.
Over the years, we have added masterclasses and networking spaces. To celebrate our 10th anniversary we are partnering with Bank of Ireland to create a new space, The Backyard at Blas. This area will be a dedicated venue for finalists to meet and to engage with an exciting line-up of speakers.
- More international influences
It is not at all unusual any more to have chorizo from Meath and mozzarella from Cork. There has also been a huge rise in the number of continental breads such as focaccia and ciabatta. The diversification of the Irish population has introduced a change in the types of bread available. People are travelling more and they are much more open to new flavours.
- More grab and go foods
These are products which take the work out of breakfasts, lunches and dinners but are still healthy, nutritious and taste good. This is something which I have noticed over the past 10 years since the awards began. In 2007, the ready to go food in the mornings was the breakfast roll. We have seen strong growth in recent years which are made with seeds, nuts, fermented ingredients, raw fruit and vegetable juices. Ready to go healthy snacks are now mainstream.
- More marbled meat and specialised cuts
With the increased popularity of nose to tail menus by chefs people are more open to cooking different cuts of meat at home. We have seen this reflected in the entries as we see more marbled meats, specialised cuts, bone-in and innovative uses of lesser known cuts of meat.
- More craft drinks
It started off with craft beers and then moved onto white spirits such as gin and vodka. The last thing, and this is down to the amount of time it needs to age, is whiskey. We are seeing some excellent whiskies now. Most recently in terms of non-alcoholic drinks, we are seeing a growth in natural flavours and traditional drinks preparations such as shrubs and cordials flavoured with clove, elderflower and peppermint.
- Higher quality “free- from” and dietary specific foods
This is a huge trend with several categories such as breads, sugar-free and gluten-free. It seems to me that the blend of flavours and the quality of ingredients has improved as this market has expanded. Whereas in the early years, the scores were lower than non-dietary-specific products, they are now on a level par. We often see a dietary specific entry, such as gluten-free, hold its own in a mainstream category.
Popcorn is massive. It started out as a sweet product but now we have sweet and savoury and a myriad of flavourings such as chilli, lime and salt flakes to name but a few. It is seen as a virtuous snack, a low-fat food. Competition is very tough in these categories.
- Growing international recognition
Through the work of state agencies, regional groups and indeed individual producers themselves Ireland is globally recognised as a place to source natural, high quality foods produced with integrity and passion. We have seen this rise in interest directly as the interest in the awards has grown from international buyers who now reach out to us when sourcing from Ireland as they are looking for the best. Based on these enquiries we created the Buyers Directory, published annually and from which producers have secured listings in Europe, US, UK and UAE.
The 10th Blas na hEireann Irish Food Awards will take place from Thursday 28th – Saturday 30th September in Dingle, Co. Kerry.