Food and drink businesses in the Highlands and Islands - ranging from festivals and fish processors, cafes and cookie producers to butchers and seafood bars - were celebrating success as winners of the eleven categories at the Highlands & Islands Food and Drink Awards on Friday (19th October).
In addition, the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival walked away with the judges' special Excellence Award for outstanding achievement, and Charlie Devin of Lossie Seafoods was presented with the award of Ambassador of the Year for his contribution to the industry.
Other winners included Cullisse Highland Rapeseed Oil of Easter Ross for New Business Award, Inverness' Angelic Gluten Free Cookie Range for New Product Award, Aquascot for the Healthier Food and Drink Award, The Whitehouse Restaurant in Lochaline for Restaurant of the Year, Kishorn Seafood Bar for Best Other Eatery and joint winners of the Young Shining Star Award - Andrew Whitehouse of Café Artysans in Inverness and Sally Swinbanks of The Tobermory Fish Company.
The Awards showcase the wide range of diverse products of businesses operating in the region, celebrating their achievements in innovation, forward planning and collaboration.
Organisers were delighted to note the highest level of entries for the Awards to date, and the judges faced a challenging role sifting through the many high quality submissions.
Quintin Stevens of the Highlands and Islands Food and Drink Awards said: "It is fantastic to see continued growth and support for the Awards. We have witnessed another challenging year within our industry both economically and climatically, but have continued to remain innovative and positive - something that the Highlands and Islands has always been extremely good at.
"I would like to say a huge thank you to our existing sponsors and also to our new sponsors who have helped bring five new awards to the event this year. We certainly look forward to working with them all over the coming year and wish all the finalists and winners every success for 2013."
Over 250 representatives from businesses in the Highlands and Islands food and drink industry attended the awards ceremony and dinner at the Drumossie Hotel in Inverness. The event was opened by Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead and hosted by A Question of Taste host and news presenter Kirsty Wark (who also reached the final in Celebrity Masterchef).
The dinner featured a mouth-watering menu including food from top local producers such as Keltic Seafare, Lossie Seafoods, Reids of Caithness, Tomatin Distillery, Knockfarrel Produce, Connage Dairy, Cromarty Bakery, Isle of Mull Cheese, Highland Fine Cheeses, Swansons Fruit Company and wine from Hallgarten Druitt. With music provided by The Whisky River Boat Band the event combined all the necessary ingredients to produce an inspiring and colourful evening's entertainment.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: "Now in its eighth year, I am delighted that the Highlands and Islands Food and Drink Awards are getting bigger and better each year. These Awards highlight the fantastic range of top quality and delicious food and drink the region has to offer. All of the winners and nominees can be very proud of their achievements.
"Scottish food and drink companies continue to perform well and Highland and Islands businesses are an important part of that success. Internationally, our food and drink offering is in high demand and I'm confident the industry's challenging new target for exports of £7.1 billion by 2017 will be met."
Long standing supporter of the Awards, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) views the Awards as an essential feature of the industry. Chris Taylor, Head of Tourism, Food and Drink at HIE explained: "We value the Awards for the profile they give to individuals and to businesses not just within their industry but also on the wider stage as the quality of the food and drink we produce can match the best the world has to offer.
"Congratulations to everyone shortlisted in this year's awards. We hope this will help you all in developing your business and contribute to the outstanding success of the Scottish food and drink industry."