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£2.7m boost for centre to help food firms ‘grow into the next Colman’s or Weetabix’

PUBLISHED: 15:52 04 August 2020 | UPDATED: 17:26 04 August 2020

Clarke Willis, a director of the Food Enterprise Park at Easton, said the new Food Innovation Centre planned at the site will become a key part of the region's agri-food strategy after securing a £2.7m government grant. Picture Kieron Tovell.

Clarke Willis, a director of the Food Enterprise Park at Easton, said the new Food Innovation Centre planned at the site will become a key part of the region's agri-food strategy after securing a £2.7m government grant. Picture Kieron Tovell.

Archant

A “visionary” innovation centre aiming to kick-start the growth of fledgling food and drink firms will be built outside Norwich after securing a £2.7m government grant.

The Food Innovation Centre, planned at the heart of the Food Enterprise Park at Easton, is one of 13 “shovel-ready” projects across Norfolk and Suffolk which will share £32.1m from the government’s Getting Building Fund, which aims to create jobs, skills and infrastructure in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The project will include a dozen 1,200sqft food-grade “incubator units”, with access to test kitchens and sensory testing facilities, to help firms making products ranging from jams to charcuterie meats products to grow, collaborate and develop new brands.

The centre, to be run by Hethel Innovation and the University of East Anglia, will include a “food hub” to offer business support and access to the world-renowned food science expertise on the nearby Norwich Research Park.

The new funding awarded via New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), has added to investment from district and county councils, bringing the total project cost to more than £10m.

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Clarke Willis, a director of the Food Enterprise Park and a member of the LEP’s agri-food industry council, said the centre was a central part of the strategy to boost East Anglia’s food and drink sector by addressing the shortfall between the region’s strength in farming production, and its relative weakness in food processing.

“This will be a visionary building, and it is there to help kick-start the adding of value to primary products from our farms,” he said.

“There are hundreds of innovative small food and drink businesses that could benefit from this. We are starting to identify those businesses who would benefit from moving out of their kitchens or, in some cases, their sheds and co-locating in food-grade premises.

“What we are looking for is people who can take primary products, add value and develop brands. The longer-term plan for the enterprise park is for larger 7,500 to 10,000sqft follow-on buildings so we can incubate these businesses to grow into the next Colman’s or the next Weetabix.

“Linked to that is an innovation hub with a meeting room, test kitchens and experts that have been drawn in from the surrounding area to talk about recipe development, product development, marketing, business plans and finance.

“We don’t know what innovation is going to come, but by co-locating these businesses will be able to feed off each other.”

Under the government’s funding criteria, projects had to be deliverable within 18 months and fit with the region’s economic strategies and the government’s recovery plan.

Mr Willis said he expects the Food Innovation Centre to be completed by the end of 2021.


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