Gathering 100 Cornish food producers and manufacturers in a room and presenting them with some thought-provoking fodder from a selection of experts proved to be a recipe for stimulating discussion at the first Great Cornish Food Conference, held at the Pavilion Centre at the Royal Cornwall Showground on 17th March.

Setting the pace and the standard for the day, Adam Leyland, editor of The Grocer, the UK’s most popular business publication, provided pertinent insights into the changes taking place in the nation’s food market, highlighting some terrific opportunities the fragmentation in people’s shopping habits is opening up for food producers with a distinctive message.

Then Frank Devine of Accelerated Improvement, a global leader on creating a high performance culture within business, got the audience thinking about how effective we really are in getting the best out of our people (including ourselves). There was plenty of useful practical help from Frank too, with real examples of processes and practices that have been proven to improve business performance by changing the culture within an organisation.

A panel of successful Cornish entrepreneurs then debated where the future of Cornish food and drink lies, discussing topics as diverse as attracting new people into the industry and the authenticity of the Cornish brand.

Sandra Rothwell, CEO of the Cornwall and IOS Local Enterprise Partnership and conference Chair, rounded off the day by outlining what’s in the pipeline in the public funding sphere and how it might be able to help the industry achieve its aspirations.

With the conference theme of ‘looking ahead’ in mind, we’ve identified some of the key messages that came up throughout the day and we’ll be looking in more detail at how we can tackle these going forward : -

• Distinctiveness – what can a business, a product, or the industry offer that is clearly different from competitors? What are the USPs of Cornish food and drink, both individually and collectively?
• Innovation – to help retain that distinctiveness. Innovation is also a key to unlocking funding and to gaining new markets.
• Skills – being more exciting will help attract more of the right people into the industry. Appreciation is more motivational than recognition.
• Leadership – is about creating high performance not happiness.
• The basics – the ‘overhead kicks’ happen only occasionally but are the things people remember, so we all need a few of them; keeping an eye on the ball all the time is what makes a solid winner.
• Authenticity and integrity – will underpin the Cornish ‘brand’.
• Problems – ‘Predict and prevent’ is better than ‘find and fix’.
• The business ‘ask’ of government –tax breaks, incentives, connectivity and great education are a higher priority than grants.
• Articulation of a strong and clear message – is needed from individual products and from the industry as a whole.

The Great Cornish Food Conference was organised by Cornwall Food & Drink and was funded as part of a project being undertaken in partnership with Cornwall College and Cornwall Development Company to enhance skills in the industry. We’ll be taking a look at how we might turn it into an annual gathering open to the whole industry in future.

Big thanks go to all our speakers and to Fifteen Cornwall, Cornwall College, Origin Coffee and Cornish Orchards for providing guests with plenty of great Cornish food and drink.