Case Study: Dorset Food and Drink
Dorset Food & Drink is a membership organisation with a trademarked brand overseen by the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty team. It represents Dorset’s food and drink business community bringing a strong and vibrant sector together under one banner. As well as promoting what Dorset has to offer, it provides excellent networking opportunities for its members and specialist advice on a number of topics, including environmental issues and support to improve your businesses environmental sustainability.
What was done
The organisation is a successor to a local accreditation scheme, Direct from Dorset. This was developed following the foot and mouth crisis of 2001 to assist with the promotion of primarily farm-based products from Dorset. This scheme enjoyed a few years of success while subsidised by the County Council. This subsidy was phased out over a number of years and a decision was made to introduce membership fees. The membership base was narrow (c 40 members) and consequently income was small; in order to make the effort sustainable the organisation needed restructuring – Dorset Food & Drink grew from this need.
It is for any food business in Dorset which supports the local food ethos, whether they be a producer, processor, retailer, wholesaler or in hospitality or distribution. Membership fees are in bands based on business turnover from £80/year for a start-up business to £350/year for businesses with a turnover of >£1m. Membership income supports a dedicated officer with management support from the AONB team. This income is supplemented by income derived from sponsorship, individual projects and an annual Christmas food fair.
DF&D’s member businesses benefit from:
- a strong representative organisation which is engaged with the Local Enterprise Partnership, the local Tourism Association and the AONB Partnership.
- Delivery of projects which benefit all members or large numbers of them – such as the Dorset Pedal http://www.dorsetaonb.org.uk/food-and-drink/foodie-routes
- Promotion of the brand as well as members’ individual products, offers etc via an annual directory and social media
- Regular networking events
- Opportunities to ‘meet the buyer’
- Priority and/or reduced rate access to fairs, festivals and exhibitions;
- A signposting service, advice and information hub;
- The ability to use the well-known brand to promote their own activities and products.
New activities planned include facilitating B2B mentoring for business development, segmenting the membership to enable more focussed offers to the various parts of the sector, acting as a media hub, provision of a first point of call for national and regional retailers and acting as a commercial contact/organiser will champion the area’s food and drink businesses.
- The initiative was launched in 2013.
- In August 2017 there were over 200 member businesses. DF&D’s social media following is >22,000; DF&D representatives got in front of over 65,000 people at the summer’s food fairs and festivals.
- The 2017-2018 directory had a print run of 40,000 for distribution around the county and beyond.
- In January 2017 Dorset Food & Drink Community Interest Company was incorporated as a Company Limited by Guarantee; over 2017-2018 the operation is being transferred from the AONB Partnership (with Dorset County Council as its accountable body) to this new non-profit company structure.
DF&D is a long-term initiative rather than a task-and-finish project. With a wide remit and (hopefully) a long future, it feels a bit early to judge ‘success’, but we have learned the following:
- Local food and drink is a great way to engage with people in conversations about landscape.
- It’s also a good way of developing relationships with local media
- Being welcoming to all kinds of businesses has been valuable and enabled us to engage them all in various sustainability initiatives.
- While the county council as accountable body provided cashflow stability and simplicity of financial management, the Community Interest Company structure was required to allow the initiative to commercialise and pursue grants relevant for delivery for which the public sector is not eligible.
- Running a membership organisation isn’t easy – you have to accept that you aren’t high on the members’ priority lists; you also have to accept that 5% of members will demand 60% of your time.
Links and further information
Quote from project manager:
“It’s been hard work but an incredible project to be involved in – my diet has improved a lot as have my local connections!”
Quotes from participants:
“DF&D are our “go to” organisation when we need help with stuff outside our skill set, the ever-changing world of business legislation means we would not be able to continue with our core business and expansion if we have to untangle the world of red tape we now have to face, and not to mention the online world we all need help and support with. DF&D have also helped us with rural planning issues as we seek to settle our business in this area.” – Vic, Cerne Abbas Brewery
“DF&D has been an invaluable source in more ways that I could have anticipated. On joining the scheme I immediately joined a family! A family of wonderful fellow producers who have helped me to grow. From collaborative working, access to events, to simple and plain advice seeking, DF&D have been brilliant.” – Ilana, Hari Hari Curry.
“I can safely say that without DF&D we would not be where we are now as a business.” – James, The Real Cure
“Becoming a member was the best business decision we’ve ever made” – Nick & Dawn, West Milton Cider Co.
Key search words: Dorset, food, drink, promotion, economy, local
Photo Credits: Dorset AONB