Northern Ireland artisan Annie’s Delights wins top award for innovation

Award-winning artisan producer Annie’s Delights in Northern Ireland has gained a major award for innovation during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The small bakery, which is based at Portglenone in county Antrim and has gained Blas na hEireann Irish Food awards for its handcrafted products, gained a gold level award from Innovate NI for ‘thinking outside the box’ to keep the business trading during the pandemic.

The company, founded and run by experienced businesswoman Ann Marie Collins in 2014, specialises in handmade jams, chutneys and baked goods mostly from locally grown and sourced ingredients. She grows some of her own ingredients such as beetroot and rhubarb.

Ann Marie won two silvers at Blas na hEireann for her pear, apple and apricot chutney and her lemon curd.

The Innovate NI award recognises her response to the serious setback to her business by the closure of local farmers’ and food markets due to the virus outbreak in mid-March. “Around 90 percent of my sales revolved around trading at markets,” continues Ann Marie. “I was devastated because I didn’t then sell to stores. I had introduced new labelling in a drive to develop sales to these outlets when the virus reached Northern Ireland and my cashflow virtually dried up.

“I quickly decided to launch a delivery service to existing and potential customers from markets. I then decided to invest in my website (www.anniesdelights.com) for online sales. It’s now generating sales and is proving itself as an important and timely investment.

“So, although it may be small, a sole trader, in the way of innovation compared to bigger companies it has turned my business around and is now generating cashflow to keep my business going. I can see online sales becoming an important part of my business when the virus eventually disappears,” adds Ann Marie, who creates all the products herself.

Ann Marie was encouraged to enter Innovate NI competition by the Foodovation team at the North West Regional College in Derry. Foodovation helps smaller food companies like Annie Delight’s in a range of areas including new product development.

Innovate NI is an innovation and management consulting company headquartered in Derry. It supports small business development, entrepreneurship, as well as digital and social innovation projects.

It specialises in business mentoring and advice support, project management, business planning, event and conference development/management.

Innovate NI said it had “recognised this small business because Ann Marie has adapted, changed and innovated by developing an orders and home delivery service, as well as launching a new website with an e-commerce platform – well done to all involved.”