Local producers have debate the future of the industry at first-ever Food and Drink Cornwall Conference at Eden Project

As consideration is being given to investment priorities for the Cornish economy and the food and drink sector looks to recover from the pandemic, the first-ever Food and Drink Cornwall conference took place at the Eden Project last week (May 12) for food and drink producers in the county.

Over 100 Cornish businesses, organisations and industry leaders gathered together at the inaugural event to discuss trends, challenges and opportunities facing the food and drinks sector. Themes discussed included supply chains, inflation, recruitment and skills, carbon labelling and sustainability.

Organised as part of the new Food and Drink Cornwall project, which has received £455,078 from the UK Government through the UK Community Renewal Fund, the conference featured a mix of keynote speakers, an interactive panel discussion and a networking lunch.

Speakers included; renowned chef and food campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Gelf Anderson, Culinary Director, River Cottage, Ruth Huxley, The Great Cornish Food Store, Ann Vandermeulen, Development Manager, FSB Cornwall, Clare Parnell, Non-Executive Director, Cornwall & Isles of Scilly LEP, Charles Banks from thefoodpeople, Robert Rush, Owner, PFA Research Ltd and Kim Conchie, Chief Executive, Cornwall Chamber of Commerce.

Leading the industry discussion was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall from River Cottage, who has provided video content and mentorship to the programme. Hugh talked about the huge role food plays in human happiness.

Speaking after the event, Hugh said: “Cornwall has long been a haven for brilliant artisan food businesses and I was delighted to see the passion evident in all the producers here today. From personal experience, I know having the right guidance is a key requirement for building a successful food business. The Food and Drink Cornwall project certainly seems to be providing just that, and we at River Cottage are delighted to be supporting that initiative.”

Charles Banks of The Food People also gave a fascinating insight into future trends in the food industry including greater focus on seasonality, ethical production and a move to fine eating, as opposed to fine dining, as consumers increasingly focus on better quality food at home.

As part of the event, an interactive poll was organised to obtain feedback from attendees on some of the big questions. The results revealed that food and drink producers in Cornwall feel inflation / rising interest rates and supply chain issues are the biggest concerns for the sector within the next 12 months. On a more positive note, 72% felt very optimistic about the future of the sector and cited access to finance and funding along with specialist business support as the two best ways to assist micro businesses to scale-up.

The sector in Cornwall is worth nearly £2 billion per annum in revenue and takes a large bite out of the whole of Cornwall’s total economic output – with an 18% share of the pie. With one in three jobs in the region, which equates to 60,000 people, having some form of attachment to Cornish food and drink, it is clear how vital the success of the sector is to the county’s prosperity as well as the national economy.

Andrew Finley, Commercial Director at Oxford Innovation Advice, explained: “We are absolutely delighted by the success of the conference and the levels of engagement from across the industry, from primary producers to food retailers. The project confirms a real need for high quality packages of support and the immediate beneficial impact that can have on businesses.”

Food and Drink Cornwall is a pilot, which has been launched to test new methodologies to boost food and drink producers in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

Funding for the pilot follows Cornwall Council’s successful bid to the government’s UK Community Renewal Fund, to provide support for this important and growing sector.

The Food and Drink Cornwall project, which is designed and delivered by Oxford Innovation Advice, is funded by the UK Government through the UK Community Renewal Fund. Cornwall Council has been chosen by Government as a Lead Authority for the fund and is responsible for monitoring the progress of projects funded through the UK Community Renewal Fund in Cornwall.

For further information on the Food and Drink Cornwall project, visit www.fdcornwall.co.uk