Produced in Kent held a meeting at the Business School, University of Kent, on 28 April, the first in-person event they have hosted since 2019, for food and drink producers. The title chosen for the event was ‘The Future Food Forum’ and it was well attended by a variety of Kent businesses.
The first speaker was Ben Reynolds of Sustain which is a national umbrella organisation for more than 100 organisations, large and small, all concerned about sustainable food and farming. They also promote reports and changing policy on climate change; nature, Brexit and trade, better food for all, cost of living and food, and local actions that make a difference on all these. Their declared mission is:
“Sustain is a powerful alliance of organisations and communities working together for a better system of food, farming and fishing, and cultivating the movement for change.
Together, we advocate food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, enrich society and culture, and promote equity.”
He gave us some facts to support the argument that local suppliers are better:
|1 job created for every £42,000 invested||1 job for every £124,000|
|10% less waste than supermarkets||1kg supermarket food waste produces more carbon than 25,000 plastic bottles|
|More diversity therefore more resilience||Empty shelves when supply chains fail|
|£1 spent locally circulates to value £3.70||Money going out of local economy|
|51% farmers want to market locally as they get better return on their crop production||Large supermarket contracts squeeze farmers|
Sustain wants to do more policy work. For example, there are arguments that public procurement of food (for schools, hospitals, prisons and the armed forces) should be from local sources. Currently only about 10% of UK food spend is on local sourced supplies. How can we improve this?
The next speaker was Phil Diacon of the company ‘Resilience’. At the start of his career he was a test pilot for fighter jets. As he explained, his career move into a resilience consultancy follows the same focus on probability and impact. Identify vulnerabilities; identify threat and identify solutions. He listed risks that food businesses should guard against:
- Supply chains*
- Cash flow
- Cost base inflation
- Lack of staff*
- Cyber threats
(* author’s comment – NB at least three of those, marked *, are caused by Brexit)
He then suggested some remedies for those ‘what if’ scenarios. Above all the most important is … make a plan.
The third speaker was from Mission Ventures whose mission is:
“With 80 years of brand-building expertise, our team of entrepreneurs specialize in building category-defining products that consumers love.
Now at Mission Ventures, we’re driven by the purpose of building a better food system. By providing better availability of healthier food, fairer access to entrepreneurial opportunities and supporting the growth of planet-friendly ventures.”
He told us that the UK has 8,285 SMEs in food production with 148,000 employers and £22bn in revenue. The value of such a business lies in quality, brand and price.
In the Q&A session, there was a question about how to measure claims to sustainability. For food producers there is an online app called ‘My emissions’. There was discussion about better regulation for sustainability, and whether the government will impose sustainability criteria on firms with over 250 employees.
There has been a 23% rise in costs for UK farmers but a price rise of only 17%. British shoppers actually pay LESS for their food (proportionate to their total spend) than any other country. Fresh produce is bought a year in advance from supplying contractors. But there has been a problem of over-supply in Kent, for example pallets of strawberries going to waste, which causes farmers to plant less the following year.
Time to sample the wares
It was then time for a break and a visit to the room where local food firms displayed samples of their products. As expected, most of them were based on fruit. I felt at the heart of Kent chatting at the Charringtons stall, with a third-generation apple farmer who gave me two sample bottles of apple juice, one made with Egremont Russet apples and the other with Coxes. Having grown up surrounded by apple orchards, I like using the proper names of apples!
Bohemian Treats gave out little jars of mixed fruit for making fruit teas, a tradition from the producer’s Czech grandmother. I thought they looked a bit like jam, but actually the taste, when mixed with hot water is quite pleasant. The label boasts ‘caffeine free’ and no artificial flavourings or preservatives but I wondered about the sugar content.
There were samples from the dockyard Jam factory at Rochester. I gave the alcoholic drinks (ciders and gin) a miss because I was travelling onward by public transport.
There were also sausages to taste, and various barbecue sauces and also mixes for biscuits and crumbles. Pete, from Docker Bakery and Docker Brewery at Hythe, was offering a tray of sourdough bread samples. One of their main outlets is the Goods Shed at Canterbury West station.
Afghan kimchi and hydroponics
I lingered at the Kimchi stall where a girl of Afghani origin was happy to explain the detail of the ingredients and the fermenting for the jars of Kimchi, which are produced in a farm warehouse somewhere in the Kent countryside.
I was intrigued to learn that her family come from a part of Afghanistan where fermenting comes from Mongol traditions of central Asia. Also pickling and spices in Persian traditions. I must admit I had rather assumed, from TV footage, that Afghanistan is a somewhat arid windy country, but she assured me that there is big variety of fruit, vegetables and spices in the food culture.
There were two stalls displaying greens, one of them the Rebel Farmer from Wye (link to article) and the other Growup Farms from Sandwich, who grow salad crops in vertical hydroponic arrays of coir, in temperature controlled rooms, using 100% renewable energy. There are no pesticides or chemicals used, so the salad can be supplied without washing. As their website claims:
“Our farms grow food with a lighter environmental footprint and a more resilient supply chain.
We’re part of the evolution of the great British farming tradition, helping to build a more sustainable food system for the UK.”
A morning well spent
All in all, I felt this was a morning well spent, as it ranged from the speech about what ‘sustain’ means to actual opportunities to see and taste the products and chat to producers. I hope ‘produced in Kent’ now continues with this annual event.