Food and drink producers in Northamptonshire are showing incredible determination and resilience as the industry works its way back from the brink, says Weetabix Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards director Rachel Mallows.
FOOD AND DRINK producers across Northamptonshire are showing their resilience and stomach for the fight as the sector continues to battle on multiple fronts to survive particularly challenging times.
The praise has come from the organiser of the Northamptonshire Food & Drink Awards. Speaking exclusively to business-times.co.uk ahead of the annual awards ceremony on Wednesday (November 1), Rachel Mallows said that county consumers and businesses are fully behind the sector.
She also revealed plans to set up a mentoring scheme, calling for volunteers from business and the wider community to offer their time and expertise to help food and drink sector businesses with their plans for a brighter business future.This year’s Weetabix Northamptonshire Food & Drink Awards are set to be a record success, with all 19 categories fully sponsored and strong interest from businesses in being part of the competition that is now in its 15th year.
That bodes well for the sector’s future, Mrs Mallows pictured left said. “It is a really difficult time for the sector at the moment because costs are still high and people are having to watch their pennies so the restaurants are finding that they are coming out to eat once a month rather than once a week.
“Producers are trying to keep their costs down to keep their produce as affordable as possible but it is a struggle to break even.
“Some businesses are doing exceptionally well but I get a real sense that the sector and those who support it really want to encourage the sector at this time. It is a really resilient sector, with some amazing people working in it and I am over the moon that the awards give us all a chance to celebrate that.”
Mrs Mallows plans to announce the food and drink sector mentoring scheme at the awards ceremony, which was due to take place at the Royal & Derngate on November 1. “I am looking for a way to build a stronger network between people,” she said.
The industry adapted quickly when the pandemic hit in order to maintain contact with its customers and local community. Pubs became shops, restaurants became delivery hubs distributing supplies to those in need at home.
The wider community, particularly Northamptonshire’s business community, has been quick to recognise the sector’s determination to survive and return to success. Leading employers both in the sector and outside have come forward to support the Weetabix Northamptonshire Food & Drink awards, including Weetabix, British Pepper & Spice, leading flour miller Whitworth & Co and regional law firm Howes Percival.
“Everyone sees the Northamptonshire food and drink sector as an asset to their business,” Mrs Mallows said. “Good restaurants enhance the area’s reputation, which helps in attracting and retaining staff, and it is a case in this county of large businesses helping smaller and start up businesses. It is its own ecosystem.”
Mrs Mallows is a passionate champion of the sector. Her parents ran a fish and chip shop in Northampton when she was a child – “I am vegetarian now so that clearly had a lasting impact on me,” she jokes – and her family hails from a rural background.
“I grow my own veg in my garden and keep bees. When you live in a rural area, you come to understand something about the importance of the land to the people.”
She is also a passionate advocate for Northamptonshire. As well as being founder and managing director of The Mallows Company, which provides coaching, mentoring and business support services, she is a non-executive director of the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership, chair of Northamptonshire Community Foundation and of the county’s visitor economy champion Northamptonshire Surprise and charity manager of the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation.
“The awards are about emphasising a real sense of place, somewhere we call home,” Mrs Mallows said. “It is about ensuring that Northamptonshire is the best it can be.
“People want to enjoy what the county has to offer. They believe in keeping their spend local and over the years we have demonstrated that the Gross Value Added contributed to Northamptonshire by its food and drink sector has increased because of that.”
The winners of the Weetabix Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards 2023-24 will be annonced at a gala dinner and ceremony at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton on Wednesday (November 1).