The first-ever Food and Drink Cornwall conference took place at the Eden Project on Thursday recently for food and drink producers in the county.

Over 100 Cornish businesses, organisations and industry leaders gathered together at the inaugural event to discuss trends, challenges and opportunities facing the food and drinks sector. Themes discussed included supply chains, inflation, recruitment and skills, carbon labelling and sustainability.

Organised as part of the new Food and Drink Cornwall project, which has received £455,078 from the UK Government through the UK Community Renewal Fund, the conference featured a mix of keynote speakers, an interactive panel discussion and a networking lunch.

Leading the industry discussion was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall from River Cottage, who has provided video content and mentorship to the programme. He talked about the huge role food plays in human happiness.

“Cornwall has long been a haven for brilliant artisan food businesses and I was delighted to see the passion evident in all the producers here today,” he said. “From personal experience, I know having the right guidance is a key requirement for building a successful food business. The Food and Drink Cornwall project certainly seems to be providing just that, and we at River Cottage are delighted to be supporting that initiative.”

Charles Banks of The Food People also gave a fascinating insight into future trends in the food industry including greater focus on seasonality, ethical production and a move to fine eating, as opposed to fine dining, as consumers increasingly focus on better quality food at home.

As part of the event, an interactive poll was organised to obtain feedback from attendees on some of the big questions. The results revealed that food and drink producers in Cornwall feel inflation/rising interest rates and supply chain issues are the biggest concerns for the sector within the next 12 months. On a more positive note, 72% felt very optimistic about the future of the sector and cited access to finance and funding along with specialist business support as the two best ways to assist micro businesses to scale-up.

The Food and Drink Cornwall is designed and delivered by Oxford Innovation Advice. Andrew Finley, commercial director at Oxford Innovation Advice, said: “We are absolutely delighted by the success of the conference and the levels of engagement from across the industry, from primary producers to food retailers. The project confirms a real need for high quality packages of support and the immediate beneficial impact that can have on businesses.”