Campaign boost for regional food

REGIONAL food and drink has been given a boost with the launch of a promotional drive aimed at helping local East Anglian produce gain a larger slice of the market.

REGIONAL food and drink has been given a boost with the launch of a promotional drive aimed at helping local East Anglian produce gain a larger slice of the market.

The £120,000 Eat East campaign aims to capitalise on increasing public concern about issues such as food miles, seasonality and sourcing products locally with its slogan: “Nearer Fresher Better”.

It was launched yesterday by the East of England Development Agency at an event hosted by food producer Lord Iveagh at his new Elveden estate shop and café restaurant.

One of the campaign's aims is to encourage links between food and tourism, and it will feature events to promote local food, such as apple days and seasonal vegetable promotions, and raise awareness of specialties such as seasonal local game, as well as linking in to national campaigns such as Sausage Week or British Food Fortnight.

Steve Cox, executive director of strategy and development at EEDA, said there were “many opportunities” for the food and drink sector in the east, which is currently worth around £2.9billion a year in the region, compared to tourism's £5billion.

“Nearly three quarters of the population want to buy local foods, people are more concerned than ever about environmental issues with the recent publication of the Stern report and debate about food miles,” he said.

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“Supermarkets are starting to wake up to the fact that there is money to be made from sourcing locally and shouting about it.”

The aim of the campaign was to create a strategy which allows the region's food, drink, farming and tourism sectors to work together to promote the quality and diversity of East Anglian produce, he said.

“There's potentially a £500million market for local food, so it's what can EEDA do to really take advantage of that market,” he said.

There were opportunities around exports, and in events such as the Olympics, the audience was told.

The region could also promote food for sale in the capital on the basis that it is locally produced.

The east of England could become part of a north London food hub, or the “London offer”, opening up even greater markets for local producers, Mr Cox pointed out.

East of England food and farming champion Marie Francis, who is supporting the drive, pointed out that it was very difficult for small businesses starting off.

“There are prizes out there if the scale can be reached,” she said.

“It's encouraging businesses to think big, particularly in their marketing operations. You can have some really good small businesses, but unless they have got clout, they can be picked off.”

The sector was “incredibly important” to the region, but had been underrated, she said.

“You've got a food industry now which is very fast-moving,” she said.

“We need to develop collaborative marketing to enable producers to achieve the necessary scale to really get into bigger markets. The supply chain must become more efficient, through businesses working together to identify savings and find different ways to add value. By concentrating on a few key areas where it is possible to have a real impact, I believe Eat East will make a big different to the local food and drink industry over the next two years.”

EEDA had committed £8million to the food and farming sector, but this could grow to £20million or more with other grants, and it was “essential” it was spent in a way those in the industry wanted it to be, she pointed out.

“This is not a brand. You are not going to see it necessarily on labelling and that sort of thing. It's a state of mind we are trying to create,” explained Denis Chamberlain, of public relations company Chamberlain, which is promoting the Eat East drive.

“Wherever there's an opportunity, we'll be there to add value.”