A new Cumbria wide collective of food and drink producers has delivered instant success after being showcased at a major national event.
Under a new This is Cumbria brand, a range of food and drink producers from around the county attended the Farm Shop and Deli Show, the sector’s leading event for delicatessens, farm shops, restaurants, food halls, butcheries and bakeries, at the NEC in Birmingham attended by 30,000 buyers.
At the three-day event the This is Cumbria showcase, organised by Keith and Jacqui Jackson of Thomas Jardine and Co, and Sue Howorth of the Family Business Network, and led by Maria Whitehead of Hawkshead Relish and Lisa Smith of Ginger Bakers, involved independent food and drink producers from across the county.
The concept, which was built on collaboration among the Cumbrian businesses, was supported by leading legal firm Cartmell Shepherd and not-for-profit lender Enterprise Answers.
Jacqui Jackson said: "Going under one brand gave us a power and a confidence that we wouldn't have had if we had gone as individual businesses. We came across as a bigger player which helped us attract more attention than if we had been individual, isolated businesses.
"It was very well received. It attracted buyers to the range and diversity of the food and drink producers across the whole of Cumbria, not just the Lake District. Getting that message across about the diversity, and about the whole of the county, was really important and we definitely achieved that.
"People know of the Lake District and they know about Hadrian's Wall, but not many we met knew Cumbria as a destination for food and drink. It was a revelation for some. It was great to show what great food and drink we have.
"There was a real openness and collaboration between all the Cumbria businesses. It helped some of those businesses who hadn't attended trade shows of this scale before, and we saw them develop a lot over the three days in understanding how best to approach buyers. There was a lot of sharing of tips and advice which was great to see."
Many of the Cumbria producers achieved more than they expected in terms of the contact they made with potential buyers.
The Pie Mill, Molly Rose Drinks and Shed 1 Gin, were all part of the ‘Showcase Area’ and ‘Enterprise Zone’, supported by Cartmell Shepherd and Enterprise Answers, designed to give emerging Cumbrian businesses on a limited budget the opportunity to showcase their products and services on a national footing alongside larger business.
They were among those who tasted instant success and, along with many others in the This is Cumbria pavilion, were delighted by the conversations they had with buyers.
Amanda Wilson, who owns The Pie Mill at Blencathra Business Centre near Keswick, has already seen benefits to her business from attending the event.
"Being part of the This is Cumbria initiative was great because I have never done a big trade show before. It gave me more confidence and more ability to sell more product,” she said.
"The advice that we got from the likes of Hawkshead Relish, Kin Vodka and Ginger Bakers was a huge help. There was real collaboration between the businesses, helping each other out with advice.
"The whole event was a tremendous benefit to me. I got a couple of really good leads. They came looking specifically for the This is Cumbria area and found us thanks to all the advance publicity and social media."
The Pie Mill specialises in meat pies and fruit pies and has been in business for 14 years.
Amanda's parents, Jim and Margaret Hodge, who also run The Queen's Head pub at Tirril, are partners in the business.
Amanda and her team supply pies to Westmorland Services at Tebay, four pubs in Cumbria, and outlets as diverse, and geographically spread, as a farm shop in Fife in Scotland and a slate mine attraction in Wales.
She hopes that off the back of the This is Cumbria initiative she will start supplying farm shops and delis and other outlets throughout the rest of the UK.
Amanda said the backing given to the producers by Cartmell Shepherd and Enterprise Answers was fundamental to the success of the event.
"I think the support they gave us was tremendous. I don't think any of it would have happened without them.
"They came down to Birmingham as well and stood on the stand and spoke to people about our products which was also very much appreciated."
Traybakes, based near Penrith, was among the bigger Cumbrian businesses who are no stranger to such events. It is the fifth time in ten years they had attended the Farm Shop and Deli Show.
But Judith Keating, Traybakes’ sales and marketing manager, said as part of the This is Cumbria group they still met new customers.
Judith said: “It brought us new customers. We have had a handful of customers who have already contacted us since the event and which has resulted in business orders. It also gave us an opportunity to see customers that we otherwise wouldn’t see.
“The power of the group bought us a good position right next to the theatre. We also really enjoyed the community element of it and the drinks reception with Nigel Barden who did a great job.”
Jacqui Jackson was also full of praise for food and drink broadcaster Nigel, who was educated at Sedbergh School, recently hosted the Cumbria Life Food and Drink Awards at Kendal College and who promoted the Cumbria producers at the event.
Jacqui said: "Nigel was excellent. He engaged with all the producers and was interested in how they made their food and drink. He really championed Cumbria."
Top freelance Cumbria chef Martin Frickel also hosted a This is Cumbria chef demonstration to a packed-out audience.
Martin, who is based near Kendal and is head chef at Mathilde's at the Heaton Cooper Studio in Grasmere, said: "I really enjoyed it. It was an amazing couple of days. Being Cumbrian born and bred it was great to shout about Cumbria.
"It was great to see the collaboration and businesses pulling together to help each other. It was wonderful to support them and to be a part of it."
Martin wowed visitors by creating a meal with ingredients sourced solely from Cumbria aimed specifically at the Farm Shop and Deli audience attending the show.
He used Cumbrian Herdwick lamb, Hawkshead Relish Black Garlic Ketchup and foraged wild garlic from Cumbria, to create a special sausage roll.
For dessert he used sheep's curd from Cartmel-based Martin Gott’s business, Lakeland Mues’ The Total Nutter muesli, Hawkshead Relish Damson Jam, and Cumbrian-foraged Sweet Cicely, which has an aniseed flavour, to make a Cumbrian cheesecake.
The whole event was such a hit that those behind the This is Cumbria group have already booked double the size of display at next year's show.
Peter Stafford, managing director of Cartmell Shepherd, said the moment they were told of the This is Cumbria initiative, after Maria Whitehead at Hawkshead Relish had taken the all-important initial step of booking the event space last year, he knew it was something he wanted his team and his business to support.
"It's what we love. It's all about Cumbria. It's all about family businesses. And these businesses have done everything themselves. They are the real success stories of the county. But up until now they don't shout about themselves. You might not even know they existed, yet they are run by inspiring people and are producing this fantastic food and drink.
"Myself, Joanne Stronach who heads up our hotel, leisure and tourism team, and Terri Hope, our marketing manager, went down to support the businesses at the event and we loved it. It's the best hour and a half I have had in ages serving wonderful Cumbria food and drink to people! Everyone was so positive.
"Cartmell Shepherd will definitely be supporting again next year. It was fantastically run, and importantly it led to more business and produced more sales for the producers.
"It's a massive sector. And it was great to be involved with like-minded people. Keith and Jacqui Jackson, along with Sue Howorth, put in the time and energy to organise it, the bigger businesses like Hawkshead Relish and Kinvodka were happy to share their knowledge and skills with the smaller businesses, 32West supported through publicity, it was a win-win for everyone."
In terms of what's next for the This is Cumbria brand, Jacqui says it's a case of 'watch this space'.
"We are not sure where it will lead. But if we keep it business-led, and keep it focused on what our food and drink producers need, then it will go in the right direction. We definitely want it to develop, it's just a case of how," she said.
Fellow organiser Sue Howorth said: "We are not going to duplicate what is out there already. All the businesses are adamant that they want to own it. Working together as a collaboration of independent businesses, they want a platform, and a voice, out of the county.
"It was a definite success. The feeling of collaboration and support for each other among the businesses stood out a mile. There was real peer to peer learning for each other and some people really blossomed in that environment."
The businesses representing Cumbria included John Farrer & Co Tea & Coffee Merchants, Hawkshead Relish, Ginger Bakers, Traybakes, Lakeland Artisan – Cumbrian Delights – Lakeland Liqueurs, Kin Vodka, The Toffee Shop, Pennington’s Spirits & Liqueurs, Shed 1 Distillery, The Pie Mill, Molly Rose Drinks and food safety consultants ML3 Technical Services.
Among the other Cumbria businesses who supported the initiative were 32West PR and content agency, We Are Eclectic branding, and Printing Plus.