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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

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Further growth for Cumbrian food industry

Cumbria's booming food-and-drink sector is poised for further growth, following a decade of relentless expansion.

John Grainger photo
John Grainger

The foot and mouth crisis of 2001 proved to be the impetus for niche producers to set up in response to growing demand for high-quality produce of known provenance.

Newcomers such as Hawkshead Relish and Country Puddings have prospered alongside larger, long-established, food-and-drink businesses such as McVitie's and Cavaghan & Gray in Carlisle, and Cockermouth brewer Jennings Brothers.

Now Cumbria Chamber of Commerce has launched the Food and Drink Growth Network to foster further expansion.

Sixty businesses were expected at the launch at the North Lakes Hotel, Penrith, last Friday. In the end more than 100 attended.

John Grainger, managing director of Invest in Cumbria, believes the sector has a bright future.

He said: “The key word is provenance.

“You can take it back to the time of the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001.

“Within the last 10 years there has been an explosion of enterprise in the food-and-drink sector. The latest food scare around horse meat [in supermarket beef products] has encouraged consumers to look at the provenance of food even more.

“We have seen an upturn in the use of family butchers.

“Consumers are more aware of where food comes and are prepared to pay a slight premium for that level of quality.”

The Food and Drink Growth Network will act as a focal point for businesses looking to grow, improve and increase competitiveness.

It is part of the Chamber of Commerce’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub and Rural Growth Network.

Lori Whinn, managing director of Rural Foodies, who mentors fledgling food producers, spoke at the launch, as did food promoter Phil Keenan of Thoroughly Food.

Some of Cumbria Business Growth Hub’s advisors have specialist knowledge of the food-and-drink industry.

They include Adrian Luckham, who has experience of running a food business and the business consultancy Way Ahead.

He said: “I hope the Growth Hub can help food-and-drink businesses understand where their target market is.

“It’s all about getting the product to the consumer.

“The food-and-drink industry in Cumbria is fantastic because you never know what you might find, there are some real hidden gems.”

Also attending the launch was Peter Johnston, managing director of Origins Caterers, a seven-week-old venture in Kirkoswald that has taken advice from the Growth Hub.

He said the fledgling enterprise had benefited from having an external mentor who could question what the business was doing.

He agrees that increased public awareness of where food comes from is helping the sector in Cumbria.

Mr Johnston added: “There is an awful lot of interest in provenance. People are more knowledgeable about it.

“Our commitment to any client or customer is that we will source produce locally.

“In Cumbria there is such variety and an opportunity to use smaller suppliers that are more committed to customer service and quality than a national chain might be. The challenge for any caterer or food business is to deliver that quality at the right price.”

Food and Drink Growth Network events planned include workshops, social-media training, food-photography training, and advice on packaging.

More information is online at www.cumbriagrowthhub.co.uk.

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