Press preview of Tesco Taste Fest 2014

As I said earlier I was going to give you a more in depth report of today’s press preview of Tesco Taste Fest 2014 at Custom House Square in Belfast. I arrived in plenty of time around 11.40 and was let in to find exhibitors and staff running round getting last minute things done. The day was glorious and warn and more importantly dry!!! This is the sixth festival and I have been to all of them and have seen them getting better and bigger.

I set out to find out a few truths today. How much money does Tesco spend in the Northern Ireland (NI) economy, how do they treat the suppliers and farmers, how many staff and staff development there was. Most of these answers came from Gary Mills who started as a manager in Connswater and is know the Director of Tesco NI. Also it was his anniversary today so enjoy the rest of your evening. When Tesco started in NI in 1997 they put £50 million into the local economy by buying supplies. Now in 2014 it is a staggering £580 million.

He mentioned the benefits of Tesco in NI. There has been an increase in export to the mainlaind and Ireland, yesterday there was a very productive meet the buyer event where buyers got to meet farms and plants etc and this proved beneficial. Also by having contracts with local suppliers this can sustain them. The promotion of our own comber spuds was greatly advertised in June and now a family Grahams Bakery from Dromore will be featuring soon.A great example of a brand which entered Tesco 2 years ago was Armagh cider and they were discovered at an Artisan event held by Tesco.

Tesco has been innovative by having food markets in stalls for tasting purposes, there are seven more earmarked for the year. Also a great idea has been field boards showing what is being produced and for whom. Another innovation is having Primacy Butchers from Bangor in stores. These things all show that Tesco is complying with its Corporate Social Responsibility. My biggest gripe here is carbon footprints from foods flown in thousands of miles and also the amount of non bio degradable packaging, so come on Tesco lets work on this (I have a suggestion about the packaging,so please email me).

Tesco employs 8500 people in NI and has a developmental pathway as Gary has shown. It also ran a youth employment scheme where it had 33 starts and by the end there were 29 jobs given. There is also great collaboration with Southern Regional College.For the community Tesco customers have raised £350,000 for Diabetes, has taken 6000 kids from farm to fork and in July provided 110,000 meals for food banks.

Our Honorable First Minister then took the Podium and added that the Agri-food industry is the largest industry in NI, also manufacturer,supplier and exporter. NI Suppliers have a whopping 349 Gold Stars, more than any other region in the UK, so well done.

So how many suppliers in Ireland supply Tesco? Combined from North and South there are 90 with approximately two thirds from the North of which 60 were present,supplying 1200 different lines.There is a dedicated buying team here and there will be an Artisan Market in the Autumn and Tesco are constantly reviewing ranges, and meeting new suppliers to explore opportunities to increase the local range. In the last year the local buyers have added more than 200 new local lines.

Main products Tesco buy locally Beef, pork, poultry, fresh produce, eggs, milk, bread, cakes.More than 3000 Northern Irish farmers supply Tesco with Northern Irish beef including over 500 NI farmers who supply farm quality assured Tesco Finest Aberdeen Angus Beef to its meat counters.100% of Tesco fresh beef, pork and chicken sold in its NI stores comes from Northern Ireland farms.100% of Tesco eggs and fresh milk sold in its NI stores comes from Northern Ireland, the milk from 1600 local farmers through Dale Farm. Skea Eggs supplies over 50 million eggs to Tesco annually for stores across the UK.

So lots of information to absorb it was then time to peruse the Marquee before the hordes ascended. This is where I learnt alot about the relationship between Tesco and the suppliers. In general all the suppliers were happy about how Tesco treated them, after all last thing we need is what has happened in other countries where the Supermarket drives everything and literally milks them for everything. So my general feeling was that Tesco do look after the local suppliers, yes commodities rise,fuel rises and this has a knock on effect with the suppliers and the consumers ie you get less for your money. !ronically I was in Tesco today and saw a 760g box of Heroes chocolates for £5, I can remember not too long ago 1kg was £5!!

The first stand I saw was Foyle meats who source all NI beef and it is processed in Drogheda and they started with Tesco in 2004. I met a young lad Ian who was showing his range of tobacco onions and chilli onions, must try them out in October, the name is Milgro. There were a number of sausage suppliers, the first was Doherty and Gray in Ballymena. They do all their own butchery and are behind Hulls Sausages which ar the no 1 brand in NI. They also do vegetable roll which as any Ulsterman knows is beef, suggestion try a pork version. I nibbled a few pieces.

Tayto Castle always take centre stage and its a pleasure to see them growing from strength to strength, Robert and his lovely girls are there also letting you sample the crisps, my favourite still has to be cheese and onion. They have been with Tesco since 1997 as have Country Kitchen who do coleslaw and potato salad and are introducing a range of dough balls in 3 weeks-they were fab as was the coleslaw. In this very competitive market of quality sandwiches Bruch Box has got a foot in the door from 2012, again tried a wee chicken sandwich.

By this stage the marquee was getting warm, so dress accordingly.. Good old Cookstown has been with Tesco since the start. Again I tried the cocktail sausages and the microwavable bacon, yes microwavable bacon. It takes 90 seconds in the microwave and takes moist and of bacon but not crispy to be introduced on 22nd September. I was amazed to learn they slaughter and process 23,000 pigs a week!!!! Cloughbane from Pomeroy are a small farm which use local chicken and beef to make pies and dinners.

Needed something cooling and natural to cool me down so I tried a blackberry smoothies from Glenisk Natural Yoghurt. It was so refreshing, no additives but I felt it was a bit too sweet, also Go-Yos which are 40g tubes of organic flavoured yoghurt and the good thing is that one 40g tube has 4.7g or 1 tea spoon of sugar-my daughter and nephew really liked them!! Next on the agenda was Kerry foods who own Golden Cow butter and Coleraine cheese and do Dennys sausages and have been with Tesco from the start. The cheese was nice and available in block,slice or grated format.

The “famous” Ashers joined in 2009 were also present with a great array of pastries,bread,snowballs and mixed pork and beef sausages, so I did suggest single meat sausage, lets see what happens. For those who want a wee alcohol tipple Bushmills was there, Magners cider, Harp and Guiness and West Coast Cooler and 5 beers from Whitewater in Kilkeel. They joined in 2007 and  their range is Belfast Black, Bees Endeavour, Hopplehammer,Belfast Lager and Copperhead. There was also teas coffees and soft drink stands.

Met up with Fresh Fields, a conventional farmer, who produces carrots,savoy cabbage and parsnips and again have been with Tesco from 1997. They are based along the Ards peninsula. They use minimal levels of pesticide,fungicide and try and use natural fly nets or weather stations to predict fungi conditions. Their produce has minimal residue levels in the vegetables.They also employ an Agronomist who advises on soil,programming the farming and use of different varieties.

I was looking forward to tasting a bit of Finnebrogue Venison but there was none. Instead the Downpatrick guys brought a fabulous range of sausages, both own label and Paul Rankin, all of which were succulent and tasty.They started their relationship in 2008 and 2009 Paul came on board.

I had an interesting chat with Roy Lyttle who started farming in 1984, with no farming background and has built up his farm and started supplying Tescos in 1997. Again based in the Ards peninsula he does organic Savoy,white and Red cabbage,leeks and purple sprouting broccoli, and non organic leeks and scallions.

Dale Farm has been there with Tesco since 1997 and they do all things dairy. I sampled a lovely cheddar flavoured with Dulce, so give that a try. With so much pork production and scandals and traceability Tesco has given NI pork the Assured Origin stamp of approval. I blogged before regarding this. Also check out and this started this year.Pork is also a white meat and is actually healthier than you think.

SKEA Eggs from Dungannon now produce all the eggs in Tesco and have been since 1997. Have you ever noticed that if you buy 2 packs of eggs they cost more that a tray of 30, go check it out!!! From eggs back to Armagh cider. They started supplying Tesco in December 2013 and produce Carsons Crisp, Maddens Mellow and Mollys mulled and ordinary apple juice. The juice was very sweet so there will be a big drive on sugar ie all food and drinks will have to have nutritional labels by law from 2016. In Southern Ireland there is a call for a 10% sugar tax for drinks. Watch this space in the 1970’s obesity and diabetes were thought to be caused by fat, so fats were reduced. Forty years later diabetes and obesity has exploded,so sugar will be the next weapon of mass destruction. Anyway on a lighter note Armagh Cider won the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for its Armagh Bramley, well done!!

Tasty Foods (Joined 2007) who produce ready made curries are lauching their chicken tikka masala in six weeks time and it was authentic so good luck guys. Baby food next, Im so glad Im out of that phase. It is the only UK baby food manufacturer with no additives at all and has a chilled life of 12-16 days. It joined in 2012 and won The Great Taste Award 2014.

There are a lot more people who are gluten intolerant and it was great to see Doherty with their range of gluten free burgers, meatballs, sausages and cocktail sausages. They do the above with gluten also and again have been with Tesco since 1997.

Mash Direct joined in 2007 and also do gluten free vegetable burgers and potato croquets which again is great to see. Martin the boss was not present as he was at the wedding of his son, good luck there.

A few breads left Cuisine de France who joined in 2004 half bake all their bread every day in Dublin and when its in store the baking is finished. Hovis has been with Tesco since 1997 and sell Ormo pancakes and are based in Belfast.My last but by no means least stand was Green Isle Foods who sell 5 types of frozen pizza with garlic or sweet chilli dips and the oizza and dips do work well. They also do Donegal Catch fish. I tried the Lemon and parsley sole, the salmon and the breaded full cod steak, not mechanically reconstituted like so many other foods are.

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and extend my thanks to Tesco and the suppliers for their time. I would like to see more Corporate Social Responsibility, more education about sugar and balanced diets. Tesco has the chance to be a market leader in CSR, education and care for its customers more.

Pictures from today before the bedlam!!!!

Once again the BFM shares the food love!!! Ciao down now!!!

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