As the 18-month long Hospitality, Innovation, Tourism Supply (HITS) Programme comes to a close, Food and Drink North East looks at what was accomplished by the participating people and businesses, as well as how the legacy of the programme will live on through resources created for the North East food, drink, hospitality and tourism industries.
Visitors come from near and far to experience the North East region’s attractions, food, drink and hospitality, but the pandemic, cost-of-living crisis and rising energy costs left many businesses in these critical sectors facing significant challenges.
The HITS Programme, delivered by Food and Drink North East in collaboration with NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI) and NBSL, and funded by the North of Tyne Combined Authority, was set up to support businesses in Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside facing challenges, and to provide targeted expert and financial support to help them to access and develop innovative ways of working.
Chris Jewitt, founder and CEO of Food and Drink North East (FADNE) said at the launch of the HITS Programme, “We want to see the food, drink, hospitality and tourism sectors thrive here in the North East, create high quality jobs, and improve the industry’s economic contribution (GVA) whilst promoting the region as a world class food and drink destination.
“The pandemic was a real hammer blow to that ambition. The HITS Programme is an exciting opportunity to address some of these challenges faced by businesses throughout the pandemic and beyond, as well as providing a genuine chance to truly innovate and to nurture some potentially change-making collaborations.”
As part of the HITS Programme, £300,000 was available in grant funding to businesses within the North of Tyne area who wanted to develop innovative business solutions. From the funding, 14 businesses received support, across all sectors of the programme, including tourism attractions, hospitality venues, golf courses, food producers, leisure and catering. It is estimated that the projects supported will generate in excess of 30 new FTE jobs, and safeguard 50-60 existing roles through introducing new-to-business or new-to-region ideas, products or processes.
Businesses were also able to meet together with their peers as well as leading industry experts in a series of six online and in-person webinar sessions called Timeout Tuesday that took place throughout winter 2022 and spring 2023. These webinar sessions centred around important issues affecting businesses within the tourism, food, drink and hospitality sectors, and covered hot topics such as sustainability, current consumer behaviour and cash management.
Additional online learning resources were created by NGI, who partnered with Digital Tourism Think Tank to release 10 podcast episodes for The Driving Place Based Innovation podcast series; offering insight into how some of the world’s most popular visitor destinations used innovative solutions to make a real impact on the visitor experience.
Each podcast episode featured an organisation from the North East, as well as global industry experts, sharing their tips and advice on a range of topics from digital innovation to making use of data and collaboration. The fifth episode featured FADNE’s very own Chris Jewitt, who spoke about championing local supply chains and how they can benefit the tourism sector by adding value to visitor experiences and improving economic prosperity.
Helping to improve local supply chains was fundamental to two initiatives that were launched as part of the HITS Programme.
We created BuySupply – an online B2B supply chain platform designed to help make it easier for buyers and suppliers within the North East to access commercial opportunities by enabling local suppliers to showcase their products and services, and buyers to find and connect to them. Over 340 businesses can be found on the platform, and businesses are still encouraged to sign up and start taking advantage of the opportunities it offers.
The second initiative was Beyond The Kitchen Table. A learning programme that was launched in March 2023 for 20 ambitious small and micro food and drink businesses who wanted to grow their businesses and become retail ready.
Throughout April 2023, the small businesses completed a combination of online modules, in-person sessions and one-to-one mentoring to help them develop their business story, hone their pitch and get ready to put their products in front of retail customers and buyers.
The participants were supported in their learning through the creation of a new online learning and training platform by Food and Drink North East called Uskillet. Webinar content was uploaded to Uskillet and then the business owners were able to log in and work through these resources at their own pace.
After completing the learning element of the Beyond The Kitchen Table programme, it was time for the businesses to put it into practise, with a live pitch of their products at the Meet The Buyer session at the HITS Expo.
Taking place from 3rd-4th May 2023 at the Crowne Plaza in Newcastle, the HITS Expo was a celebration of the best practitioners in food, drink, hospitality and tourism under one roof, as well as the annual North East Culinary Trade Association (NECTA) Hospitality Salon, and prestigious North East Chef of The Year competition.
Chris Jewitt, said, “The work that we do is all about the coming together of industry – removing the barriers and connecting the dots between hospitality, tourism and food and drink supply chain.
“The HITS Expo was an ambitious attempt to do just that by celebrating the very best of what’s on our doorstep. Two days of industry insight, inspiration, and showcasing the region’s emerging culinary talent. It was an exciting moment in our collaboration with NGI.”
Over 750 people flocked to the HITS Expo across the two days to take part in industry insight sessions, panel discussions, live demonstrations, chef competitions, inter-school college culinary competitions and networking. There was a strong sense of community, belonging and excitement as the hospitality, tourism, food, and drink sectors came together to connect, share and learn from each other.
After the HITS Expo, the two supply chain initiatives – BuySupply and Beyond The Kitchen Table – began to grow further.
Fenwick department store in Newcastle collaborated with FADNE to host a selection of Beyond The Kitchen Table graduates in a seasonal showcase across two days in its Food Hall, while The Alnwick Garden posted an opportunity on the BuySupply platform for local producers to express interest in an Autumn Fayre within its grounds.
In October 2023, the Artisan Autumn Fayre at The Alnwick Garden marked the final organised event of the HITS Programme and saw 26 traders promoting their products in front of a new audience, as well as forging exciting connections and collaborations.
The HITS Programme may have ended, but the legacy of the initiatives created during the 18 months, such as BuySupply, Beyond The Kitchen Table and Uskillet continue to live on as useful and needed resources for the North East hospitality, food and drink, and tourism sectors, and there is even talk of the HITS Expo returning again in 2024.