CAKE Mix: Creativity and Innovation in the Food and Drink Sector
Creative Fuse was joined by three great speakers exploring the potential for innovation and growth in food and drink enterprises; each with great examples of innovation and collaboration helping companies grow, or helping companies be more nimble in adjusting to vastly altered circumstances since March 2020.
Our three speakers each gave a great taste of regional and international culture and expertise used to innovate in the food and drink sector.
Chris Jewitt, Food and Drink NE
Chris Jewitt shared his vision, as founder of Food and Drink North East (FADNE), to increase the visibility and economic contribution of the independent food and drink sector in the region. Based on his career in international fair-trade, and experience launching and operating an innovative restaurant in South Gosforth focussed on food ethics, Chris discussed the regional strengths, challenges and opportunities in the food and drink sector. He defined the target (based on successful campaigns in neighbouring regions) of increasing the economic contribution of food and drink from 2% to 10% in the coming years. FADNE advocates nationally for the region’s food and drink sector, and promotes social equity, including ethical sourcing, reducing food poverty, and lower carbon emissions.
Chris explored how innovation, cooperation between different companies, and between tourist and travel venues and local food and drink suppliers can all support growth. Launched in February 2020, FADNE has already supported the region’s independent food and drink community as it moved to online selling with the closure of small markets in the COVID pandemic. It has helped businesses through support funded by the North of Tyne Combined Authority and is also exploring innovation and development opportunities through Newcastle University’s National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise and through Creative Fuse which will cover the wider North East Region.
Lee Renforth – Brinkburn St Brewery, Bar and Kitchen
Lee shared how the Brinkburn St Brewery, established the Ouseburn Valley area of Newcastle, had diversified from brewing to running its own bar, kitchen and event venue – with feature ‘epicurean’ evenings that allow them to interest and retain a high quality chef. By collaborating with the Steam-Machine Brewery some miles away in Newton Aycliffe, the product range is increased as each sells the other’s quality craft beers without competing for the same customers.
The Brewery commissions art from a local artist, referencing local history and culture, to label its craft beers. Modern and traditional brews have different visual styles but both use Geordie cultural references, and are available as prints.
Their regional appeal and dedicated customer base has seen the Brinkburn St Brewery through rapid changes in rules through the pandemic, which temporarily closed the venue allowing only takeaway orders. The customer base was keen to access quality beers despite lockdown and to see the company through to reopening. Again in connection with the Steam-Machine, the Brewery is exploring the option of a monthly subscription service, which would deliver six quality limited-edition beers each month to those wanting to drink ‘adventurer’ craft beers at home – and is set to continue even after the welcome reopening of venues and bars.
Silviya Svejenova, Copenhagen Business School
Silviya Svejenova presented on her work in the development of “New Spanish” cuisine and more recently “New Nordic” cuisine. These centre on innovation approaches, reimagining cultural traditions for a modern market and exploring multi-sensorial food and designed to satisfy emotions as well as the palate. Concepts developed in R&D kitchens spread quickly as ideas and techniques, while festivals or pop-up restaurants are creative ways to test innovation ideas and identify those that flourish. In this research-led environment, the craft and techniques of working with food are linked with science, design and tech – a new kitchen technique or a new product might be designed.
Businesses with prior experience of R&D, food science, and innovation were able to adapt quickly to the new market conditions of the pandemic; experience of ‘pop-up’ product testing was ideal for quickly releasing take-away menus that maintained quality but managed queuing effectively. Silviya shared examples from before and within the pandemic of how food innovation boosts conviviality, and can fight food waste and serve food-deprived populations. In the US, food-aid was distributed via restaurants to maintain employment in the pandemic, while repurposing unused restaurant ingredients to food-deprived communities is a sound policy principle for the long-haul.
In these ways innovation kept businesses and societies afloat through the pandemic. The newly developed takeaway approaches may well continue after venues reopen, but a culture of creative courage, considering and testing the seeds of innovation for the future, can be an ongoing part of a company’s repertoire for resilience.
We want to hear from you!
In the next two years, Creative Fuse North East is looking to work with more than 300 small enterprises in the region to provide business support for creative innovation, through creative/IT interns, expert workshops and similar programmes funded by the AHRC and ERDF. Professor Jonathan Sapsed invited enterprises in food or drink to network with Creative Fuse North East to explore needs for recovery and opportunities for growth and change. If you would like to get involved, please email firstname.lastname@example.org