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We should be proud of our top quality produce in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 08:08 03 March 2017 | UPDATED: 08:08 03 March 2017

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I was at the launch last week of a new initiative designed to highlight the ‘integrity and passion of local businesses who are genuinely championing Norfolk’s food and drink industry’.

Called ‘Proudly Norfolk’, it is essentially a brand that consumers will be able to trust as a mark of quality and provenance.

Run by Norfolk Food & Drink, this is an honest effort to build a brand for our county’s produce, and it was encouraging to see a big turnout of food and drink producers at the launch event. You will soon see the Proudly Norfolk logo on labels, on delivery vans and in food shops and restaurants across the county. The gold and black roundel will be a beacon for those seeking out the best of what Norfolk has to offer.

Within Norfolk, we are certainly getting better at telling people about the wonderful things we are growing, raising and producing in the county. The new initiative is well-named, because I sense that there is indeed a growing pride among those living in Norfolk about what is on offer, and an increasing willingness for consumers to make their purchasing choices based as much on provenance as on price.

Unfortunately, while we might be great at telling each other how good Norfolk’s food and drink is, we are woefully bad at telling the rest of the world. Ask people in other parts of the UK to name a Norfolk foodstuff, and the answer you are most likely to get is the Turkey Twizzler. And that is certainly nothing to be proud about.

If you Google ‘UK foodie destinations’, you will find a mouth-watering list of places to visit to satisfy your gastronomic delights. Destinations like Ludlow, Abergavenny, Padstow, Ripon, Whitstable and even Woodbridge in Suffolk feature in many of the lists of recommendations; sadly, Norwich and Norfolk are significant by their absence from most of the lists.

How can this be? Our county produces getting on for a tenth of the UK’s food, and yet we have somehow failed to tell the rest of the world about what we have to offer. Why does it have to be such a big secret?

I once spent a fascinating night on the trading floor at Billingsgate fish market in London’s docklands. This is where you find the very finest fruits of the sea, and it’s the epicentre of the UK fish trade. I spoke to every single trader who was selling crabs, to find out where they came from. Not one was offering Comer crabs. Not one.

One trader told me that consumers hadn’t really heard of Cromer crabs, and if they asked for crabs from a particular part of the country, it was most likely to be from Dorset.

We have this idea that our food is famous beyond the county’s borders. It just isn’t.

Credit to people like Norfolk chefs Galton Blackiston, who proudly champions Norfolk produce when he appears on Saturday Kitchen, and Charlie Hodson, whose national award-winning sausage roll is essentially an edible advertisement for Norfolk ingredients. But these flashes of promotion are occasional; there is no sustained effort to tell the world about our wonderful food and drink.

Tourism is a very big part of the Norfolk economy; we have a tourism marketing body to promote it. The offshore industry is extremely important to our county’s prosperity; we have the East of England Energy Group to promote it. Food and drink is the other big employer in Norfolk – and yet we are doing little to shout about that outside of Norfolk itself. There is no adequately funded body to market our county’s produce.

It’s great that we have a scheme to allow our producers to shout about being ‘Proudly Norfolk’. But if we can’t build Brand Norfolk across the rest of the UK and beyond, we will never gain the reputation that our farmers and our producers deserve.

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