COVID-19 – Producers come together to support the sector

Mar 26, 2020

A North East Food and Drink group is launching a delivery service in an attempt to keep members afloat and get good food to people in the region.

A virtual market to promote, sell and deliver high-quality local North East food and drink during the coronavirus lockdown is just days away from being rolled out.

The Local Heroes initiative will see producers, suppliers, logistics, storage, distribution and transport companies coming together to help feed the region, as supermarkets limit the number of shoppers allowed through their doors to meet the Government’s strict social-distancing rules.

The scheme is the brainchild of the Food and Drink North East (FaDNE) group, and will start with a 12-week pilot programme that will initially deliver across the north of Tyne area.

But if the online food ordering service proves a success, the intention is to roll it out across the North East.

The self-funded initiative is being built from the grassroots up and comes on the back of a FaDNE consultation with more than 165 of the region’s food and drink producers looking at how the coronavirus crisis would affect them.

With retailers and routes to market closing down and trade drying up, many said they could go out of business within the next four to 12 weeks.

The Local Heroes virtual market will offer a number of different locally produced food box options, from fresh produce like meat, fish, dairy and fruit and vegetables, to store cupboard essentials, and even treats like chocolates, sweets, beer and wine.

The boxes will also include food stories and recipe cards, promoting the North East’s culinary cultural assets, to ensure the survival of the sector beyond the current coronavirus crisis, and in the words of Chris Jewitt, FaDNE’s chief executive, “connect local people to local food like never before.”

Each order will include a 10%-15% ‘community premium’ so FaDNE can supply free boxes and meals to the most vulnerable and hardest hit in the region’s communities, from low-income families to the socially isolated and NHS staff.
It is planned to have the Local Heroes shopping website up and running in the next few days.

Mr Jewitt said: “Every item will be sourced, produced and processed here in the North East and the resultant short supply chain will ensure fresher produce and a positive environmental impact, as well as become a positive model for future trading beyond this crisis.

“By buying a box, customers will not only get to discover the best food and drink our region has to offer, but they’ll help support local businesses and communities, securing local jobs whilst protecting our regional culinary assets and identity.
“The current crisis has changed everything, at least in the short-term, leaving many of our local producers fighting for survival. With retailers and routes to market closing down many are sitting on stock they cannot sell.

“If something is not done to stimulate trade and kick-start cash flow, we are at real risk of losing many of our most innovative businesses, devastating our regional economy and food identity, as well as resulting in job losses totalling anywhere between 750 and 1,850-plus.

“This initiative is a proactive and coordinated response to this.”

This article was written by Jane Hall and originally published in Business Live

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Food and Drink North East is a community interest company (CIC). We aim to build a vibrant and engaged community that champions positive trade, promotes a sustainable circular economy and acts as a collective and inclusive voice for the region’s food and drink sector. Focussed on four strategic areas, our objective is to grow the sector’s contribution to the regional economy to 10% gross added value (GVA) by 2025.

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