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Published: 00:01, 22 April 2019
Stephanie Durling, manager of local food and drink champions Produced in Kent, looks at how our farmers, producers and restaurants are diversifying to help deliver a multi-billion pound boost to the county's economy.
Growing produce on the land has long been one of the county’s most traditional economic backbones.
But an increasingly competitive marketplace has prompted more and more growers to diversify in order to keep pace with trends and innovation.
And with an increasingly educated consumer, more alert than ever to the benefits of a lack of carbon footprint and the provenance of what ends up on their plate, local producers have proved adept at finding, and exploiting, niche markets to take them mainstream.
What’s more, consumers are tapping into trends – from an increasing number pursuing a vegan lifestyle to those seeking out products taking a responsible attitude to the environment.
In short, it has resulted in a thriving, vibrant and highly lucrative sector.
No longer the UK’s best kept secret, Kent’s food and drinks businesses contribute a mouth-watering £2.6 billion to the UK economy each year.
Made in Kent visited a crisps company based Nim’s fruit crisps
That represents nearly a tenth of the whole UK food and drink industry revenue of £28.8bn.
To put that into context, food is the single biggest manufacturing sector in the UK, bigger than the traditional heavy-hitters such as automotive or aerospace.
Some farmers have gone to extraordinary lengths to diversify – only too aware that resting on their laurels could result in stagnation or, worse, decline.
With developers seeking land, many have felt the pinch.
But many are looking to build on an already enviable reputation in the soft fruit sector.
The county’s cherries and berries are considered to be some of the best in the UK and frequently fill the luxury punnets across the nation’s supermarkets.
If you’ve dug deep at Wimbledon to buy the tennis tournament’s de riguer treat – strawberries and cream – almost inevitably you will be experiencing a berry grown in Kent.
But the burgeoning wine industry is where we’re really starting to reap the rewards of our farmers’ diversification decades ago.
The county’s vines are reaching a level of maturity which is yielding some celebrated and award-winning wines.
If you watched the Boat Race recently, the winners toasted their success with fizz from Tenterden’s Chapel Down. While the likes of Biddenden Vineyards – once best known for its potent cider, now produces some 80,000 bottles of top-notch wine a year.
KMTV went to find out more about Chapel Down expanding
Doddington’s Duddas Tun recently picked up an award for diversifying into cider production utilising its fruit harvest to maximum effect.
The impact on the environment of farming is one which is becoming increasingly important to consumers.
And Kent producers are responding.
Recently, Whitstable based micro roastery and coffee shop brand, Lost Sheep Coffee, branched into the retail sector with the launch of a range of completely compostable air-tight Nespresso compatible capsules.
Greensand Ridge Distillery in Shipbourne has become the first UK distillery to go carbon neutral, following in the tracks of Wrotham-based Winterdale Cheesemakers who took their entire facility from cow to shop shelf carbon neutral in 2012.
For those who are health conscious, the trick of keeping one step ahead of the rest remains key.
Fudge Kitchen, based in Lyminge, has launched a no added sugar brittle as well as vegan fudge.
While Whitstable restaurant Pearson’s Arms pledged to include vegan dishes for every course on it’stheir a la carte throughout the year.
And the naturally vegan low sugar product range of Nim’s fruit crisps, based in Sittingbourne, recently won an award for speciality drinks innovation for its new range of edible fruit teas.
When it comes to slashing food miles – the distance from production to plate – eateries are making use of their own land to capitalise.
The Small Holding in Kilndown, an award-winning restaurant uses produce from its own farm.
Find out more about Fudge Kitchen here
There’s no doubt that the national supermarkets offer a valuable resource to families.
Not everyone can shop locally all the time, we’ve come to expect a certain degree of choice and variety, but it’s the small changes which can make the biggest differences.
As a county we need to be supporting our local shops, cafes and restaurants, because Kent retailers are stocking some of the best produce in the UK. You can find local produce in supermarkets too – look for Kent on the label
Based on the Office of National Statistics and census figures it was recently calculated that if every person in Kent spent an additional £5 locally a week it would generate an extra £175m for the Kent economy for the year.
That boost to the economy is what helps the county to grow, the shops will offer more stock, the producers can generate more lines, the business stay open longer and provide more local jobs.
As Kent businesses consider the potential implications of a no-deal EU exit, we can play our part too, by making sure that we pop into a local shop, bar, or restaurant and spend our £5 -or more- and help make a difference to where we live.
Kent remains the third most popular place to visit after London for visitors from abroad.
Last year the county welcomed an additional four and a half million visitors to the county.
The influx of visitors inspired Produced in Kent to launch a food tourism website called Kent Food Trails, which invites both locals and visitors to get out and experience Kent’s amazing food and drink scene.
For people who to like to learn more about the history, heritage and 21st century innovations, there are six bite-sized guides covering subjects like wine, vineyards, beer, hops, cider, apples, dairy, berries, cherries and craft distilleries.
To find out more, visityou can head to the website www.kentfoodtrails.co.uk to create your own food experience or follow one that’s already been curated.