FOOD and drink producers, retailers and independent catering businesses in Worcestershire are being invited to join forces in a new initiative aiming to put the county’s products well and truly on the UK and even world map.

The scheme, spearheaded by Worcestershire Regulatory Services (WRS) Environmental Food and Health team and the Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership (WLEP), aims to establish an association of food and drink businesses for the county.

This organisation will support its members, give them a voice and promote the wonderful range of quality food and drink produced in Worcestershire.

Due to funding from WLEP, county producers and retailers are being offered free introductory membership for 2018.

Helen Cameron, project lead for WRS said one of the regulatory services functions is to support businesses as well as regulate them. The WLEP had some money to fund a survey of local food and drink businesses asking them what they wanted in terms of support.

One of the main themes from that survey was that they wanted an association to represent them. Since then the aims of this organisation have been established – to promote independent food and drink providers; to support the growth of the independent food and drink sector and to establish a centre of excellence for food and drink. Worcestershire was once considered the "Garden of England" but for many years since then this title was associated with Kent.

Helen said there was already a great enthusiasm for the association in Worcestershire. The WRS and WLEP invited a number of businesses to attend two brain-storming session to help develop the idea and there was a 100 per cent response.

And about 40 businesses came forward to join as soon as the membership was opened, said Helen. These include Pershore College, Droitwich Food Festival, Little Black Pig, Churchfields and Dayus Butchers.

The aim is for the Worcestershire Food & Drink Association to eventually become self-supporting.

Helen said: “Worcestershire has an abundance of superb food and drink produced by talented, innovative and focused businesses – some of the most enthusiastic and passionate people in the industry in fact. The county’s one EU designated food is of course asparagus, and its long-running Royal Three Counties Show actively promotes local and regional food with taste.

“It is, however, some way behind in telling its food story and we need to do more to spread the word.

“Most importantly, this project is being driven with the active support of Worcestershire food businesses. A series of focus groups carried out last year were met with a hugely positive response and have helped to shape our food journey to ensure it is in line with what is required by those working in the industry day in, day out.

“Other regional food organisations like Cotswold Taste and Eat Live Sleep Herefordshire have already set the benchmark, and it’s time for us to follow suit to bring Worcestershire’s produce to the fore.

“To this end we look forward to working with our neighbouring counties to ensure that the very best of our region goes on show to the world at large.”

The project and the new Worcestershire Food & Drink web site will be officially launched at The Food & Drink Trade Show at the Three Counties Showground on Wednesday May 2 and Thursday May 3. There will also be a chance for producers to meet buyers from large retailers during the show.