Finalists demonstrate a healthy and innovative industry throughout the region
Food and drink businesses around the Highlands & Islands and Cairngorms National Park area have finally discovered whether they’ve made it to the next stage of the industry’s most prestigious awards as organisers of the Highlands & Islands Food & Drink Awards (HIFDA) announced the 41 shortlisted finalists today (Monday 26th).
Over the past few months, the 14 judges have read their way through dozens of written submissions, sampled a variety of the best of Scottish produce ranging from buffalo, goat and salmon, salad dressings, biscuits and cheese to ice creams, cordials, whiskies and craft beers, and deliberated their conclusions at length until the winning businesses were agreed upon.
Shortlisted businesses for the 12 awards come from all corners of the region from Keith to Kiltarlity, from Shetland to Skye, from Forres to Fort William and from Dalwhinnine to Dornoch and Dunoon - a promising sign for the continuing breadth of talent in the industry.
This year the judging panel was chaired by Stephen Rankin, director of UK Sales at the Awards’ headline sponsor Gordon & MacPhail. The judges comprised experienced individuals from all sectors of the food and drink industry, including Head Chef Charlie Lockley of the Michelin starred Boath House near Nairn and representatives from industry organisation Scotland Food & Drink and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
Chair Stephen Rankin commented: “It was a genuine pleasure to chair the judging panel again. The expertise, integrity and professional approach of the judges was outstanding and the diversity and extremely high quality of submissions was an on-going reminder of the imagination, passion and skill which is prevalent throughout the industry.
“I would like to thank the many companies and individuals who entered the Awards and congratulate them on their submissions. As HIFDA grows in stature, more and more companies are keen to gain the recognition an award brings. This obviously makes the judging process more challenging; but it really does signify that being shortlisted for an award is truly a fantastic accolade.
“It was fantastic to review such a diverse range of entries from a brilliant blend of well-established companies to youngsters and new businesses just starting out in the industry. The latter group’s bravery and willingness to take on responsibility has to be admired and recognised.
“Because of the high level of entries this year, I would like to highlight that top level feedback is available for those who have been unsuccessful in their submission, and I would urge these businesses to take advantage of this unique opportunity.
“I’d like to wish good luck to all the shortlisted finalists and I hope to see them all at the Awards Dinner and Ceremony in October.”
Charlie Lockley was a first-time member of the judging panel this year. "I was honoured to be asked to be a judge this year." he said. "I didn't really know what to expect or what was expected of me, but I found the process and the experience 'behind closed doors' a real eye-opener and an informative learning curve.
"In summary, I can confirm that a judges' job is a pretty tough one - but definitely enjoyable and inspirational! The high number of quality entries lead to a lot of debate amongst the judges before finalists and winners could be decided on. This was particularly the case when it came to sampling the products for the Best Drink and New Product Awards - the variety and quality of the products entered this year shows how creative and knowledgeable the food and drink industry is through the region.
"It was a highlight for me to learn about the great work which is going on in the area’s restaurant scene - much of which goes unrecognised. These people, who are are so passionate and enthusiastic about what they are doing, put such extraordinary effort into running excellent restaurants and getting their names out there. I can't wait to go and visit them for myself and to see (and taste) the results of their hard work first-hand."
The Highlands & Islands Food & Drink Awards complement the work of the Highlands and Islands Food & Drink Forum and are supported by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). They celebrate excellence and achievement in the industry and recognise industry players at the top of their game.
Crystal Mackay, HIE’s Development Manager for Food & Drink said: “HIE is extremely pleased to see such a high level and quality of entries received from across the region for the Highlands and Islands Food and Drink Awards. Our fantastic natural larder is a key strength for the region and growing the food and drink sector is a priority for the agency. We welcome and thank all the dedicated companies across the Highlands and Islands and Cairngorms National Park area who entered and we wish all the shortlisted companies the best of luck in the forthcoming awards.”
Shortlisted finalists have been announced in 12 categories including Best Drink, Export, Independent Food & Drink Retailer, New Product and Restaurant of the Year. The winners of two additional categories not open for general entry, namely Ambassador of the Year and the Judges’ Award, will be made at the discretion of the judges and revealed at the Awards Ceremony.
The winners of all the awards will be announced at the Awards Dinner and Ceremony at the Kingsmills Hotel, Inverness on Friday, 24th October. The event attracts around 300 representatives from the region’s top food and drink businesses who gather annually to celebrate all that is best in the industry in the Highlands and Islands and Cairngorms National Park area.
The evening’s proceedings will be hosted by popular presenter and comedian Fred MacAulay – back by popular demand! Tickets cost £75 +VAT and can be purchased online at www.hifoodanddrink.co.uk.