Ireland’s top food awards are on a road trip — to Cork.meets the team behind Backyard at the Blas.
Since it was installed in a vacant yard situated in the middle of Dingle town, Backyard At The Blas has been the understated jewel in the crown of Blas na hÉireann Irish Food Awards. The laid back network and learning programme has been so well received at the awards over the last two years that the team behind the Blas are taking it on the road.
The Backyard operates as is like the sitting room of the Blas na hÉireann awards. The idea came from founder Artie Clifford, when considering people travelling all the way down to Dingle for the weekend.
We realised that we couldn’t expect people to travel all the way to Dingle to collect a piece of glass; we had to offer them other things to do as well. We started with master classes which were formal, in a theatre style with panels like ‘what the buyer wants’, ‘how the retailers are reacting’ and then evolved into the format that we have today
That is, an opportunity to bring Irish food producers together in a relaxed setting to chat, share experiences and gather insights into running a business. The new programme of events will also feature a number of leading industry speakers who are passionate about offering support and advice to those starting out. Helena Hickey of Skeaghanore West Cork Duck says that the information and friendship she has found at The Backyard has been invaluable.
"The Backyard provides an open forum for us all to share information. There is so much going on every day, when you are running a business and the more you talk to people, the more you learn. I am always open to learning but sometimes I find something out at the Backyard that I had no idea about"
The first Backyard at Blas event will take place at Ballinwillin Estate, Cork on May 15 followed by two events at The Séamus Ennis Arts Centre on June 18 and 19. The theme for the events on June 15 and 18 is branding and packaging, and is something that throws up a lot of issues for new food producers, says Artie Clifford.
“What lots of people don’t know is that the product and its packaging should be created in tandem because often people don’t understand that for planograms in supermarkets, you need something that’s going to slot in; often you see people going from beautiful tall bottles to ones that actually fit on the shelf•”
Client Services Director Aisling Wixted and Richie Ryan, Creative Director from Greenhouse Creative one of Ireland’s largest food branding agencies, will be on hand to share their experiences in developing some of the country’s more successful and recognisable food brands, offering invaluable insight into succeeding in the retail environment.
It won’t be all learning though, laughs Artie Clifford. “We are in the food industry after all. There’ll be lunch at all the events that will be both exciting and made with local ingredients. It’s important to meet the people who work in your industry and share information and we want to make it easy and enjoyable.”
The venues have been chosen for their ease of access and at times where guests won’t be affected by rush hour traffic. “People running food businesses do not have time to be sitting in hours of traffic; let me tell you.” Planning with producers in mind is a small but exacting example of what Artie and his team have created with the Blas na hÉireann Irish Food Awards and their Backyard.
“I was a food producer so I do understand what it’s like and the process that is involved in food production,” he explains. “I had to go abroad for accreditation or acclamation or a clap on the back and I felt that I would rather get the nod from my neighbours. In Ireland food is so personable, and people appreciate quality product and will pay for quality product because they are aware that we have the best produce in the world.”
Helena Hickey agrees.
Attending these events makes you so proud to be part of this industry. We have such a foodie culture and are making incredible products, up and down the country. We feel so lucky to be a part of it
One of the first missions that the team behind the awards took on was to create a network of food producers who would support each other. “I think we have created this in the weekend and through events like Backyard,” says Clifford.
“Some producers will leave us, having learned something from another producer rather than someone on stage. They might have developed a working relationship over the weekend. We have seen two cider producers - one in Cork and one in Armagh - teaming up after a weekend in Dingle and now they work together for purchasing power or to buy sugar. That’s an example of what we do working in the best way.”