A network to support County Durham food and drink producers is being launched.

Durham Food and Drink Network is the fifth key strand of the Durham Business Opportunities Programme (DBOP), which is part of Business Durham.

The network will enable small producers and County Durham SMEs who are keen to get their products to market, to tap into a minimum of 12 hours of business support.

It is being jointly delivered by the county’s three enterprise agencies, East Durham Business Service, CDC Enterprise Agency and the South Durham Enterprise Agency.

To launch the network, which is an initial 12-month programme, producers and stakeholders from across County Durham are being invited to a showcase event at Shotton Hall Banqueting Suite in Peterlee on Thursday, December 6, where full details of the support available were unveiled.

Steve Robson is from South Durham Enterprise Agency. He said: “We know there are food and drink producers across the county who are making fantastic products but are struggling to find a route to market.

“What the Durham Food and Drink Network will do is identify those people or companies who could most benefit from assistance to take their business to the next level.

“The food industry is a significant contributor to County Durham’s economic prosperity, however there are still many barriers that exist which are preventing some of our smaller producers making the impact which their products have the potential to achieve.”

Durham Food and Drink Network will offer businesses the opportunity to take a minimum of 12 hours of support, some of which is funded and some of which must be paid for by the businesses themselves – however subsidised rates will be applied when businesses are making contributions.

The programme will look at various areas which are perceived as constraints to growth, as well as opportunities which exist for producers to target new markets. These include:

  • Marketing
  • Access to networks
  • Talent attraction
  • Logistics and distribution
  • Labelling
  • Production equipment
  • Access to funding

The aim is to make sure that only those businesses that are serious about taking their products to market sign up.

Guy Bashford is business engagement officer with DBOP. He said: “For all there have been a number of initiatives to promote and support County Durham’s food and drink industry, it’s clear we’re still lacking behind our regional counterparts in Cumbria and Yorkshire.

“What we want to do is identify companies within the sectors, and work with them to identify what factors are preventing them from growing. This could be a lack of understanding of how to properly label or market a product, a lack of resources within the business, or perhaps funding or cash flow issues which are holding a business back.

“We know there is enormous potential for the food and drinks sector in County Durham; the key is offering businesses within it the support which could enable them to take their product to a larger and more diverse audience of customers.”

DBOP was launched as a three-year programme to help County Durham SMEs who haven’t yet taken up support. It is delivered by Business Durham and funded by the European Regional Development Fund.