I know that this is the second year of Local Flavours and it is fantastic to be here and hopefully sample some of the finest flavours we have in the county. It is a unique event, bringing together 80 local producers and hundreds of local and national buyers.
Local food economies
I think what this festival reflects is the booming interest locally, nationally, and internationally in Britain’s wonderful regional, county and local food.
Local food is vital. It is [one of] the building blocks of what British Food is and what it means to us.
It’s impossible to imagine British food without Norfolk turkey, Stilton cheese or Melton Mowbray pork pies.
I think what we are seeing now is a revolution, powered from the bottom up which is making a difference in towns and villages across the country—from local food markets, seaside cafés and pubs.
And we can see this change happening. On the way here I stopped at the new Waffle and Pancake house on the A11 and on their menu they have local food from Norfolk and Suffolk. If I stopped at a café 10 years ago, you just would not have seen the pride in local food that we now have, that’s very exciting.
Resilience and value
In a world where we are seeing globalisation, with many farm and food producers struggling with the volatility of commodity prices, I think strong local brands and local identity are very important to ensure that producers continue to get value from their products and are able to sell in a global market.
You only have to look at events in dairy and cereals markets, or the effects of Russian sanctions to see what happens when commodity prices don’t go the right way. Strengthening food identities are one way that we can build resilience right across the food industry. I can see we have St Peter’s Brewers here, who now sell a lot of their beer abroad, but they are trading on their local identity to be able to do that. I think that these identities are the future of British food.
Of course there is action that we can take at UK and EU level. We are building a futures market in products like dairy that can help build resilience and the EU Commission have adopted that. We also intend to introduce tax averaging over five years to help farmers and producers plan for the future.
Building local food identity
Over the next 10 years we are going to see a real transformation in our food and drink culture, led by local food.
People are rediscovering a lost connection with what they eat and drink, how it is made and where it comes from. People trust what they can see. They want to know more about the wonderful landscapes, our fantastic history and they want to see the technology and innovation of how their food is produced.
People rightly see food as central to their quality of life. They want the healthiest, most nutritious ingredients, sourced locally where possible.
People here and around the world associate British food with our traditions—like the pub lunch or the afternoon tea—and with uncompromising standards of quality, safety and animal welfare.
As a country we are number one in the world for animal welfare and I think that is something that we should be proud of. We can see distinctive identities now flourishing—Norfolk, Suffolk, Yorkshire, the South West, Scotland—and London, closely identified with the boom in gin.
Businesses working together
It is vital for building these identities that businesses join forces.
I am pleased the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival are today launching their “Produced in Norfolk” brand for small producers.
The Suffolk Food Hall near Ipswich, judged the best local food venue in Britain in the Countryside Alliance’s rural Oscars, is promoting Suffolk county’s identity as well.
And in the South West, more than 1,000 food and drink businesses have set up the Taste of the West cooperative to promote food and drink from Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire.
By coming together, businesses go beyond promoting local identity –they increase their clout in the market place.
We have Anglia Farmers here today—the biggest agricultural purchasing organisation in Britain, combining the buying power of 3,500 businesses.
In the southwest, producers are selling through groups like the Somerset Larder, where county businesses bid jointly to supply the people building the new Hinkley Point nuclear power station and to supply the police and schools. So what we are seeing is consortia of businesses across the country coming together and using their local market power and strong local identities to build brands and to build successful businesses in the future.
As the government, we are reforming the way that we buy food to support the local food revolution.
Last year, we launched the new balanced scorecard, which makes it easier for schools, hospitals and Whitehall departments to buy local produce.
And we are now making the buying process totally transparent so every time a public sector contract comes up, it is published and consortia of local businesses can bid.
Protecting local identities
Protected Food Names add a legally protected mark of quality to cherished local food and drink.
So far, there are 64 products in Britain with this status—including two from East Anglia, Fenland Celery and Newmarket Sausage. I want to treble that number to at least 200 so we catch up with France.
Consumers are willing to up to pay double the price for Protected Foods compared with what they pay for similar products without this status.
We have a Defra stand here today where you can find out more about the application process.
There is a race to become Norfolk’s first protected food name. I know that there are a lot who are interested—Cromer crab, Norfolk Black Turkey, Binham Blue cheese and I do want to see this part of the country, which has some of the finest flavours in the country, punching its weight in terms of protected food names. Not only do protected food names gain from the brand overall, but they also help promote the county and promote the Norfolk food brand which people will buy into.
And we are also setting up an initial 17 Food Enterprise Zones, three of them in East Anglia, to boost local food economies by bringing businesses together.
Better information and labelling
From the new YouGov polling, we know how highly people value local food—we need to help them with better information.
From this year, shops have to provide full details of national origin on meat labelling and I am pushing the European Commission to extend this to dairy and I am also working with supermarkets to see how we can get better dairy labelling.
I would also like to see shops and producers voluntarily giving far more information on local provenance.
And we will be using our GREAT branding which has been so successful in international markets to celebrate local food in British shops.
As we can see here today, East Anglia is a hotbed of talent. And it is taking the lead in showing how to build on people’s pride in local food and drink.
- The Norfolk Peer potato
- The Blythburgh rare breed pork
- Mrs Temple’s Binham Blue cheese,
- The award-winning chocolate made by the Pump Street Bakery in Orford.
- Or the Brecks Sausage Roll, created by Maggie Cooper and Vanessa Scott from Strattons Hotel in Swaffham, crammed with locally produced pork, black pudding and vegetables.
Over the next 10 years, local food is going to be the powerhouse that drives the growth of our £100bn food and drink industry and the whole £200bn rural economy—not least tourism, where up to a third of spending in some regions goes on eating and drinking.
The people here today are right at the heart of turning this industry into a world-beater—so that when people around the world think of the countries that are home to the greatest food anywhere, Britain will be number one.