Time we told the world Norfolk makes more than just Turkey Twizzlers

EAT Norfolk Food and Drink Awards 2019 at OPEN. Photo credit ©Simon Finlay Photography.

EAT Norfolk Food and Drink Awards 2019 at OPEN. Photo credit ©Simon Finlay Photography. - Credit: Simon Finlay Photography

Andy Newman was proud to be at Monday's big celebration of Norfolk's food greatness and suggests it's time we start shouting out how great the county is from the rooftops

On Monday night I was privileged to join 350 hugely-inspiring people at Open in Norwich for this year's Eat Norfolk Food and Drink Awards, a celebration of the very best of our county's food and drink producers, retailers, pubs, cafes and restaurants.

As well as being a great fun event, these awards serve an important purpose. It is easy to forget just how vital food and drink is for Norfolk. We produce around a tenth of the nation's food (and it's entirely possible that a greater self-sufficiency in food could be a pressing need in the near future).

In addition, our hospitality industry is a massive part of the appeal of Norfolk to visitors, and tourism is the only sector which employs more people in the county than the food and drink industry.

I was a judge this year, which meant I got to travel around the county visiting some of those on the shortlist. What came across from the people I met was a genuine passion for food and drink, and an unstinting commitment to making our county a true beacon for quality.

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If you have been reading the coverage of the awards in this newspaper over the past couple of days, you will understand why the awards ceremony was so inspiring. No-one in the county can be in any doubt about Norfolk's position as a leader in the field.

Sadly, great as we are at acknowledging this excellence amongst ourselves, we are not so good at telling the rest of the world. The unpalatable fact is that our county does not enjoy the reputation it deserves in the food and drink field.

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In fact, if you ask people who don't know Norfolk to name one product which originates from the county, the chances are that the answer will be a Bernard Matthews Turkey Twizzler.

I once spent a night in Billingsgate Market in London, the nation's most important wholesale fish market. I wandered every aisle, spoke to pretty much every merchant. Not one had a Cromer crab on their stand. One told me that if people ask for a particular type of crab, it was invariably a Dorset crab. We know our north Norfolk crabs are the sweetest and the best, but the message hasn't found its way beyond the Suffolk border.

You might ask, if we are such an important part of the UK's food production base, we must be selling our produce far and wide, so what does it matter if in the wider popular perception, we are not as recognised as we should be?

There are three answers to this. The first was writ large on the faces of the winners on Monday night: after putting your life and soul into a business, recognition matters. It inspires others to take the plunge and start new businesses, and it motivates the people who work in those businesses. We should never underestimate the importance of this.

The second reason is that more widespread recognition will drive demand for our quality products, driving up their value and bringing in more money to be invested in our economy, in jobs, and in making our food self-sufficiency more robust.

The third is more indirect. One of the biggest ways of attracting incoming tourists is food; if we could position Norfolk as a foodie destination, it would bring in more visitors. Those visitors will spend their cash in our hard-pressed pubs and restaurants, but they will also spend in hotels and B&Bs, and they will shop in our beleaguered High Streets.

Monday's Eat Norfolk Awards were a brilliant showcase for our amazing food and drink sector. But important as they are, they represent only half the story. Important as it is, recognising our own here in Norfolk is not enough.

We have to build on that amazing event and start getting the message out much more widely. We have the quality product; now we must build a quality marketing plan to go alongside it.

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