VIP visits put artisan food producers on global map
ARTISAN food producers are struggling to cope with an explosion in export orders following the visits of US President Barack Obama and Britain's Queen Elizabeth.
The VIP visits -- both of which were used to showcase the best in Irish food produce -- are being hailed as stunning successes with export inquiries to key artisan producers running at record levels.
An Bord Bia has been inundated with 'foodie' queries since Irish produce featured so highly in both visits.
The state agency currently works with more than 350 Irish artisan food companies. These have an annual estimated turnover of €500m and support more than 3,000 jobs.
But it is believed the sector has the potential to double these figures by 2016.
Meanwhile Irish food producers are boosting their profile abroad with many being asked to appear in US media.
Frank Hederman of Belvelly Smokehouse in Cork, whose daughter Alexandra runs a stall in the 18th Century English Market, has already been featured on Bobby Flay's top-rated NBC cookery show in the US.
And paying tribute to his produce, 'The New York Times' wrote: "Mr Hederman smokes fish, which is a little like saying Steinway makes pianos."
"We've had a huge response already," said Mr Hederman. "We've always had the belief that quality will win out -- and that is exactly what is happening for Irish food.
"The queen's visit to the English Market, in particular, was fantastic because it highlighted what a truly incredible asset the market is.
"No other city has anything like it -- and the produce on offer there is second to none," he added.
Mr Hederman -- in business for 30 years -- uses traditional smokehouse methods and offers more than 20 product lines ranging from smoked salmon to haddock, eel, mackerel and shellfish, not to mention cheeses, butter, herbs, paprika and even nuts and oats.
He is currently negotiating major product and export launches on the US market -- with his sales to the UK via London's Borough Market thriving.
The sales surge has also impacted on other artisan producers including Tom Durcan Meats, Milleens Farmhouse Cheese, Ballymaloe Relishes, Bantry Mussels and dozens of others.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney -- who escorted the queen around the English Market last month -- said Ireland's artisan food sector was hugely important for the overall economy.
He also said that Ireland's fish industry was set to soar in importance over the coming decade.
"Without fish we will not be able to feed the world -- it is a major part of the global diet," he said.
"There is a huge opportunity for Britain and for Ireland to develop a growing and developing aquaculture and fish industry. At the moment we only produce 12,000 tonnes of salmon each year from fish farms -- but Scotland is able to produce 150,000 tonnes.
"Each year China consumes some 93 million tonnes of fish. Almost 70pc of that comes from aquaculture -- some 65 million tonnes from aquaculture and still they cannot produce enough."
The weekend's TasteFest gourmet festival in Cork further underlined the soaring interest in artisan Irish food produce.
Celebrity chef Rachel Allen said that consumers were increasingly focused on quality and originality -- both of which Irish producers excel at.