East Anglia: Local food ‘not going away’ Tastes of Anglia members told

Robert Gunn, chairman of Tastes of Anglia

Robert Gunn, chairman of Tastes of Anglia - Credit: Archant

MEDIOCRITY is not an option for local food producers, but locally-sourced produce “is not going away”, an East Anglian conference was told this week.

Times are tough, Tastes of Anglia members were told, but the regional food and drink organisation, based at Witnesham, near Ipswich, is seeking growth in all areas.

Every major supermarket now stocks local produce, delegates heard, and that was not a trend that was changing.

“Buying or selling locally is relevant,” said Tastes of Anglia commercial director Andrew Bullard. “It will not be going away.”

Members welcomed new chairman Robert Gunn at their annual general meeting at Willie Snaith House in Newmarket on Tuesday, as well as hearing from a range of speakers. Mr Gunn, who introduced the speakers, acknowledged that times had been tough for companies in most sectors in recent years.

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Among the line-up was tourism chief Keith Brown, chief executive of Visit East Anglia, head of (the National Institute of Agricultural Botany) NIAB Innovation Farm in Cambridge Lydia Smith, and Sarah Simonds, owner of Scott Field Pork near Brandon.

Joining them was local food and drink supporter Chris Mapey of the Angel pub in Woodbridge, who has joined the Tastes of Anglia sales team, and Richard Garwell , a business adviser with the Manufacturing Advisory Service who explained how members could access government grant aid.

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Mr Bullard explained how Tastes of Anglia, whose producer-members are shareholders, was planning to strengthen in the west of the region, and gauge what its membership wanted, while bolstering its sales team with two new recruits. It would also be launching a new Tastes of Anglia website in the next couple of months, he said.

“Between us, we have an opportunity to really shout about what we have, independently and together, but together is better,” he said.

“Just talk to us - that’s the most important thing - communication. The membership is the lifeblood of this organisation. That’s one of the things that makes us stand out.”

Producers needed to make sure what they are producing is relevant to retailers and consumers, and inform the team when they were launching new products, he said.

“We have got a regional identity, fantastic produce and a good marketing set up,” he said.

Mr Brown looked at the changing tourism landscape, now heavily influenced by recent online phenomena such as holiday review website TripAdvisor.

He explained the economic importance to the region of the tourism sector, and within that, food and drink. Tourism spend was showing a marked increase compared to other parts of the country, he explained, and this was good news for the food and drink sector. However, finances were tight, and the future uncertain.

“It’s going to be very, very competitive, and our only constant is change,” he said.

The quality of offerings was important in such a competitive environment, he said.

Customers are looking for experiences and knowledge enrichment, but also good value, he said.

“They want to find out about who grew this particular thing,” he explained. “The high end of the hotel sector is actually doing well, as is the budget sector. Consumers don’t do mediocre any more,” he said.

Last-minute bookings and self-catering holidays were the emerging trends, he said. “The quality of the experience will differentiate you from others, but the competition is going to be tough,” he said.

Mrs Simonds explained how she and husband Robert had set up their own rare breed pork operation, suffered setbacks, but found a ready market for their high quality, locally-reared product, which was also making a significant contribution to efforts to save the Large Black pig.

Ms Smith explained how small food companies could attract grant aid through NIAB.

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