Regional hub to boost West Country farmers and food producers

A NEW regional food organisation has been set up to develop a “world-class,” sustainable supply chains across the South West, to link farmers and food producers with outlets for their produce, particularly public organisations such as the NHS and schools.

The South West Food Hub Community Interest Company (CIC), which was launched on the late May bank holiday, aims to support the regional food network to buy local and help the sector to “build back better” when the pandemic and the lockdown are over.

The creation of the CIC is supported by organisations including the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, the University of Exeter, Exeter City Futures, POM Support (a network of food and drink experts who advise on developing and growing business  through Projects, Operations and Marketing) and the National Farmers’ Union.

Alex Stevens, NFU regional policy manager, says: “We are a region united by food and a strong food and drink sector will be crucial to getting the economy back on track when life returns to normality. This initiative seeks to link the region’s food producers and farmers with outlets for their fantastic produce. NFU South West is excited to work alongside these fantastic local companies and support the South West Food Hub.”

The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted fractures in the food supply chain. The South West Food Hub will draw on the collective expertise, experience and connections of those involved to support the regional food community during and after the pandemic.

The South West Food Hub is collaborating with chartered accountants PKF Francis Clark and solicitors Stephens Scown LLP to facilitate an anonymised ‘health check’ for food and drink businesses to understand how they are being affected by the Covid-19 crisis. Findings from this research will enable the hub to influence key stakeholders and develop a co-ordinated regional support strategy with the aspiration to build back better.

The hub will also be working as the Crown Commercial Service’s regional partner to prepare the area to pilot a government initiative to help shorten public sector food supply chains. In the pilot scheme, the South West Food Hub will work with institutions such as schools and hospitals and support food and drink businesses to meet entry criteria and prepare to supply through the new platform.

James Cashmore, deputy chief executive of the Soil Association, the UK’s leading food and farming charity says: “Dynamic food procurement holds the prospect of creating shorter, more adaptable, more resilient supply chains, with fewer barriers to participation, particularly for local producers. Approaches such as this are needed now, more than ever.”

Greg Parsons, co-founder of the hub and director of POM Support says: “Having founded Somerset Larder to ‘feed the 5000+’ at Hinkley Point and launched food hub projects in North Wales and Cheshire, I am inspired by this opportunity to work with farmers, growers, processors and buyers in the South West. We will help to open up public sector food procurement to small and medium businesses and collaborate with partners across the region to build a world class, future-proof, sustainable supply chain.”

Devon cheese-maker Mary Quicke says: “It’s lovely to see this initiative connecting all the people who want great local food with all those people and small businesses who can accommodate supplying this food.”

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