Supporting food and drink businesses in the New Forest – Update from event

On 4th December, 30 local business representatives participated in the NFBP briefing on how better support can be developed for the local food and drink industry at the Thatched Cottage Hotel, Brockenhurst. A critical range of issues were debated from the importance of taking an ethical and environmental focussed business to the continuing lack of a consolidated local produce purchasing and distribution system.

Three short presentations were made; firstly by Anthony Climpson of Go New Forest (GNF) on the historic background of the issues facing the industry, plans to solve these through for the creation of a New Forest Food City and the critical need for developing mutual and trusting working relationships to ensure the wide variety of businesses and organisations involved, work together and avoid duplication of already scant resources. In a special cultural landscape such as the New Forest he pointed out the need to maximise the provenance and brand values of the “place” rather than just being focussed on “local” produce. GNF have a Food & Drink Plan in place which includes the creation of the New Forest Food City idea and a meeting will be held at the end of January/early February to agree future action.

Adie Callaghan of Appetite for Adventure and New Forest Hampers then gave a little background about her two businesses and talked a bit about the issues she faces in particular the need for the New Forest Marque, NFBP and GNF to work to an overall plan. Adie also extolled the virtues of taking an ethical approach to business and the inspirational impact of the Naked Pantry in New Milton has had on her where zero packing amongst other environmentally aware practices are all part of living and working the changes we all need to make , to bring about eliminating poor social and environmental business practices.

Richard from Food Chain introduced the idea of a completely new way of doing business between producers, suppliers and end users especially chefs through the Food Chain App. The App not only provided a comprehensive choice of high quality food products but also the connections between suppliers and chefs/buyers, the system also enabled buyers to vet producers/suppliers oversee quality control. The system had a built in token system to reward engagement and was fully consolidated in terms of paperwork and distribution. Food Chain was operating well in London and a few other cities and the idea now is we develop a Food City here in the New Forest. Richard is about to meet Harvest Fine Foods to capitalise on all the above and local and national distribution for New Forest produce.

The floor was then opened up for general discussion which covered a wide range of issues confronting local food & drink businesses; Kathy from Naked Pantry explained more about her business philosophy, especially zero packaging and its many advantages from enabling older people living on their own to reduce their costs and own environmental footprint by being able to purchase small individual quantities, to the refill campaign and a complete avoidance of plastics in everything she does.

The problems of finding effective and efficient local distribution was debated and Richard from Harvest said he had spare delivery van capacity midday and midweek, so had scope for some local delivery process and will be talking to Food City to see how they can work together. This led to discussion on the benefits of collective purchasing to provide economies of scale, it was noted that the Food City idea is also very much about this as well and this aspect will be covered in the GNF meeting in late January/early February.

Business support requirements, were discussed and a number of those present asked about grant availability especially to reduce carbon footprints. It was noted that there is funding available from both EM3 and Solent LEPs via such schemes as Research & Development tax credits and NFBP is there to provide help with these and other business support matters including skills, training , apprenticeships etc. The last tranche of the Leader Rural Development fund is still available but closing dates are fast approaching, again details are available from NFBP. Another support issue was that the local planning system was not very helpful or supportive of business, but rather pre-occupied with conservation at the expense of a vibrant rural economy. NFBP are committed to assisting in resolving these sort of issues through its role in delivering the New Forest’s Economic Development Strategy.

To help raise the profile and needs of local food & drink businesses it was agreed GNF, NFBP and the New Forest Marque need to work as closely together as possible playing to each other’s strengths to avoid duplication and get the appropriate messages across to local managing agencies, residents, day and staying visitors/consumers. More use could made of the “Buddy” system. There was a clear opportunity to rebrand and redeliver the GNF Green Leaf Scheme to assist ethical business development through the tried and tested VERB management model designed to help businesses find mutuality between the sometimes conflicting needs of Visitors, the Environment, Residents and Business development. It was noted that NFDC could do a lot more on the disposal of specialist materials such as Tetra Paks where the scale is far too large for committed enthusiasts to handle.

All present agreed that the briefing session had been very informative and stimulating. Thank you to the Thatched Cottage for hosting us.

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