Broadland Food Innovation Centre, the £11.4m project aiming to revitalise Norfolk’s once-booming food industry, is set to open in August this year.
Norfolk, which used to be one of the major national agricultural hub, has fallen behind other regions in the UK in terms of food production. The centre aims to cultivate innovative food production through technology, investment and fostering a creative space to develop new ideas. It comes as part of a wave of innovations in Norfolk, such as the Food Enterprise Park where the centre will be situated, and Fischer Farms, which is currently building the world’s largest vertical farm.
Food Enterprise Park Director, Clarke Willis, commented:
"When we look at how much food we produce at a farm-gate level and how much we process, the South-West and Scotland as regions have overtaken us,” Food Enterprise Park Director Clarke Willis told local newspaper Eastern Daily Press. “We are fifth in terms of adding value, and we should be first. I am really annoyed by that."
The centre will 'house' companies which will be able to use state-of-the-art facilities to research, test and develop products. For instance, a sensory kitchen, business incubation units and test kitchens will be at the disposal of tenant companies. Aside from facilities, the centre will operate as a bridge between farmers and businesses, to encourage private investment and mentorship alongside product innovations. Up to £250,000 of innovation support is offered through the University of East Anglia, Hethel Innovation and Broadland District Council.
Mr Willis believes that this link between farmers and businesses is crucial in order to keep Norfolk up with market trends.
"For example, there is a massive agenda around pulses, but we are not growing enough pulses in this part of the world. Currently, our whole structure of agriculture is based around growing wheat to go into the mills to feed pigs and poultry. That is not sustainable."
The project is part of a wider push to encourage a thriving local economy, where food grown at home will be sold and consumed within the local economy.
Many companies have shown interest in the centre, according to Emily Larter, the Growth Delivery Manager for Broadland and South Norfolk Councils.
"We have had lots of interest from potential tenants, from all types of food and drink businesses," she told the same publication. "We have designed the project in a way that encourages collaboration, and the units are British Retail Consortium standard, subject to getting the certification when the tenants move in, which means tenants can immediately be in a facility that enables them to get their products into supermarkets. It enables them to take quite a significant leap in terms of the market they can reach. That could be quite a significant thing for the small businesses we are talking to."