Setting up the multi-million pound Shropshire Food Enterprise Centre (SFEC) in the midst of an economic downturn naturally raised questions with people.
Is it needed? Is it cost effective? What benefits will it bring? But as bosses prepare to celebrate its first anniversary these questions have been emphatically answered by helping local businesses to expand significantly and putting Shrewsbury on the culinary map internationally.
The £7.5 million centre of excellence, on Battlefield Enterprise Park, is managed by Heart of England Fine Foods (HEFF) on behalf of Shropshire Council and is the only building of its kind in the West Midlands.
Walking into the foyer the sheer size of the centre is apparent and the on-site TASTE kitchen is heaving with business people after a large-scale conference held at the purpose-built facility. Almost 12 months since the ribbon was cut last June, the centre has now occupied 11 out of the 12 state-of-the-art production units which have been taken up by local start-up businesses as well as relocated companies.
Emma Cardwell, of The Flavoured Butter Co, relocated to Shrewsbury from Corwen in Wales and was the first producer to take up one of the smaller 1,500 sq ft units. Within a year she has seen her product fly into around 14 Co-op supermarket stores and now supplies to more than 70 retailers.
She said: “There’s definitely more of a vibe about the place a year on and we’re all feeding off each other. Personally I needed to expand my business and move to a more professional
place and being here definitely gives you more credibility. Business has probably quadrupled and I’m at a stage now where I’ll be looking to employ people.” Another business which has flourished since moving to SFEC in October is Mr Moyden’s Handmade Cheese which was previously run at a family farm in Newport by husband and wife Martin and Beth Moyden.
Using locally sourced milk they now produce four varieties of traditional cheese and have a new website, www.mrmoyden.com, which goes live tomorrow, Friday.
“When we came round to look at the centre we saw a massive potential for growing the business,” said Martin.
“We started producing in January and already we’ve doubled our production and we’re just setting up a new website.
“Our customers are coming from further afield and we can now meet orders whereas before we actually had to turn people away as we just didn’t have the resources.”
HEFF bosses have revealed the unique centre has future plans for expansion which will offer more local businesses the chance to start up. They have also catapulted Shrewsbury
onto an international scale by giving talks on the industry in southern France, Poland and even at the European Parliament.
Chief executive of HEFF Karen Davies said despite the tough climate the food and drink industry was bucking the trend which had been mirrored in the successful first year for businesses at the centre.
She added: “Food and drink always tends to hold its own in a recession and generally speaking all of the businesses here saw growth even during the harsher periods.
“As the businesses here are smaller they have the ability to adapt and change quicker to the market demand. They also tend to have a more loyal customer base which is key because when times are tough the English are extremely good at supporting their own.”
In an example of SFEC’s growing appeal they recently hosted a group of Swedish artisan students who learnt about the work HEFF does at the centre. Karen said more facilities would be launched at their annual July conference and stronger partnerships with overseas organisations would be looked at as the enterprise continued to grow.
It seems the initial cost of Shropshire Food Enterprise Centre is being justified even more so as word spreads about this jewel in Shrewsbury’s crown.
by David Seadon