A COMMUNITY interest company which champions the region’s food and drink sector has come up with a new initiative to support the industry through Covid-19 and beyond.

As the UK prepares for a staged approach to reopening its economy, Food and Drink North East (FADNE) launches the Local Heroes Virtual Market to promote the region’s fantastic produce and to safeguard regional food and drink businesses.

There are 800,000 jobs in food and drink in the North East and in a recent survey of its network, 74 per cent stated that operations would not survive more than three months of continued lockdown – putting an average of five jobs per business at risk.

FADNE decided that, with so many businesses fighting for survival, something had to be done to stimulate trade.

The aim of the Virtual Market is to provide a platform for local food and drink businesses not only to continue selling their goods during the lockdown but to win over new customers and ensure long-term sustainability and employment.

Seven themed and curated Discovery Boxes have been launched, featuring a wide range of fresh and store cupboard ingredients – all sourced from North-East based businesses.

They will change weekly and feature produce from a wide range of brands and businesses but will be along the lines of a North East Breakfast Box containing items needed for a cooked and continental breakfast; Roots, Fruits and Shoots featuring fruit and vegetables; TFI Friday with drinks and snacks; The Big Cheese; The Butcher’s Block; The Ploughman’s Brunch and When the Boat Comes In seafood selection.

Customers can also build their own box and add extras into the themed boxes.

The Discovery Boxes are currently available for collections from the FADNA hub at The Beacon, on Westgate Road, Newcastle, and free delivery to NE1, NE2, NE3 and NE4 postcodes. Wider distribution based on demand is expected over the coming weeks.

Chris Jewitt, founder Food and Drink North East, said: “Food and Drink North East (FADNE) launched in February 2020, a project I started working on three years ago born out of a desire to tell our story as a region. It was launched to provide sector-specific support to producers, processors and manufacturers and to act as a vehicle to influence at a regional or national level. Our aim is to grow the food and drink economy here to 10 per cent of GVA by 2025.

"The Local Heroes concept came before Covid-19 to provide producers and traders with resilience, reassurance and the comfort of knowing business can continue against the odds.

"Local Heroes Virtual Market helps ensure producers stay connected with customers and supporters and provides much needed revenue when so many of their hospitality customers are closed.

"Equally, it was launched so that we could build a powerful, visual showcase of the incredible and iconic produce on our doorstep, from Teesside to Tyneside, County Durham to Northumberland.”

The purchase of every box includes a 10 per cent ‘community fund’ that will be used to support the organisations working with the vulnerable and socially isolated.

The first beneficiary will be Newcastle West End Foodbank – a member of the Trussell Trust and one of the UK’s busiest food banks.

In addition to a long list of passionate and engaged suppliers, #LocalHeroesNE is supported by its partners Greggs, Harlands Accountants, Zmove, Blueline Taxis, RTC North, Food Newcastle, Middlesbrough Food Partnership, Sustainable Food Places, Food Durham, Dan Prince, i2i Consultants and Infinite Design.

For details and to order visit localheroes.fadne.org or search FADNE or LocalHeroesNE on social media.

For details on how to support #LocalHeroes NE and the wider mission of FADNE visit fadne.org and localheroes.fadne.org

Potential suppliers and customers can also follow FADNE and its LocalHeroesNE initiative on social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter