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Event to gauge enthusiasm for ‘food centre’ among Norfolk’s food and drinks manufacturers

PUBLISHED: 09:58 18 February 2018 | UPDATED: 09:58 18 February 2018

A UEA event hopes to attract aspiring food producers and entrepreneurs. 
Photo: Nick Butcher

A UEA event hopes to attract aspiring food producers and entrepreneurs. Photo: Nick Butcher

Archant © 2004

Food and drink manufacturers in Norfolk are being given an opportunity to influence a strategy for the sector’s future growth in the county – including the creation of a new “food centre”.

The Helping Norfolk Grow event at the University of East Anglia (UEA), aimed at small and medium sized producers, will see firms, academics and public sector representatives discuss challenges to the food and drink sector’s growth and development in the county.

It is being organised by UEA in partnership with the Food and Drink Forum, a national trade body for businesses in the industry which has facilitated more than £30m of investment and support since its formation in 1998.

While it will have a focus on south Norfolk, with members of the food and drink team at South Norfolk Council on hand to share knowledge and take questions, the event is intended to inform a county-wide industry strategy.

The main thrust of the meeting is to assess demand for a Norfolk food centre, or food enterprise zone, with purpose-built premises for sector businesses.

The Food and Drink Forum has helped to set up similar centres in Leicester and Nottingham.

READ MORE: Food Enterprise Park at Easton close to signing major ‘anchor tenant’

The forum’s commercial manager Andrew Collinson said research had revealed a demand for suitable business space from Norfolk’s food and drink producers.

“We’d like to understand from local businesses whether they have been able to find and access premises suitable for their growth aspirations,” he said.

“Food-grade premises are very expensive and private sector developers do not generally build them speculatively because of the expense and because, if it has been built for food manufacturers, it can really only be used by food manufacturers, which limits their ability to lease or sell the units.

“It’s also expensive to retrofit. You could spend hundreds of thousands of pounds retrofitting a space to be food-grade – if you are starting up that is a lot of investment.”

He added: “Norfolk is a huge area for food manufacturing in terms of agriculture and value-added manufacturing.

“Bearing in mind the job losses at Britvic and Colman’s coming in the next year or two, a bit more support for SMEs may be welcome.”

Finnbar Carter, student enterprise officer at the UEA, said: “We get huge numbers of individuals wanting to set up food-based business, but for those who are looking to manufacture a products and market there are huge barriers, most notably the space, equipment and expertise to help develop and then manufacture their product.

“We are hoping this event will provide a platform for our students and graduates to openly discuss their challenges amongst other local businesses and collectively we can explore solutions.”

• The event takes place at the UEA’s Enterprise Centre on Tuesday, between noon and 2pm.

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