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Realising the Potential of the indie food and drink sector in Leeds

Posted by: Anderson Lima

A short walk around Leeds city centre would suffice to show new visitors to the city how vibrant and diverse our food and drink high street is. From large household names, fast-food giants to small independent coffee houses in Victorian arcades, at any time of the day or evening, our restaurants, cafes, street food vans, bars and pubs will be bustling with people, activity and life.

The city attracts a large number of 'foodie' experts which, when allied to a host of highly connected network of media outlets, can offer great opportunities for those creative food and drink entrepreneurs seeking to launch and grow their businesses. Always ready to listen to customer’s reviews, gripes and suggestions, businesses seeking to thrive should learn to bring to our highly demanding customer what they want, when and how they want it. Leeds and city region is proven to be highly receptive and ripe for innovative gourmet ideas, new food services and creative business models.

Leeds is internationally recognised for having one of the best independent restaurants, bars and café scenes in the UK. Every month larger food chains from within the UK and as well as global brands reach out to the sprawling metropolis to open up their own claim in the city's culinary industry, making the environment extremely competitive to those new to the market or start-ups with limited resources.

Having a great business idea with an offer of high quality food, delicious cuisine and fresh recipes from different countries does not necessarily warrant success and a lower rate of failure for a new small business. The failure rate is still very high. New restaurateurs and street vans owners alike must be prepared to face the challenge of a highly sophisticated and demanding customer base, as well as the threat of cash rich and marketing savvy famous national and international food and drink chains.

The British food and drink industry with its world's renowned brands is the single largest manufacturing sector in the UK, with a turnover of £95.4bn. Nevertheless a recent study from consultancy firm Pragma (2016) has found that Independent restaurants have lost market share at the expense of fine dining and branded restaurants in recent years. Still coffee shops, leisure and fast food offers have generally grown at 3-4% CAGR. Branded emerging Fast-Food and Street-Food are the two dining sectors forecasted to grow the fastest.

Starting a business in such a vibrant environment offers multiple possibilities to entrepreneurs and start-up companies, but not without its many risks. They face multiple internal and external challenges to building their capabilities and becoming sustainable in this diverse and complex marketplace.

These challenges come in different shapes and forms from costs associated to setting up and running the venture, selecting and training staff, building a strong marketing strategy and brand presence, gather market intelligence, develop financial knowledge and overcoming operation hurdles are among the many issues that stand in the way of owners making it extremely difficult to manage and grow the new venture.

An IFDA EventThe Independent Food and Drink Academy was created to address these many issues facing SMEs and start-ups in the food and drinking industry.

It seeks to support small independent enterprises from street food traders through to established small businesses, offering advice, support and training to help their businesses to grow in this dynamic sector. Our services are developed and delivered by industry experts. The Academy is a joint partnership between our university and Leeds City Council.

Through a number of interventions and network events companies can receive enough help in order to become sustainable and grow. We are investing in these start-up companies and small businesses in order to strengthen businesses in the independent food and drink sector in the Leeds city region offering a blend of contextualised learning and development opportunities.

The picture above is from one of the last business mentoring days we have organised in the city. Members come to these events to receive free consultation with professionals and experts in their respective fields.

"The benefits to those who join the Independent Food and Drink Academy will be long-term. The advice and support available through the Academy will be invaluable to many start-ups or growing businesses, and will help them maximise on the increase in popularity in the food and drink industry in our city.” - Councillor Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council.

Interested Businesses can benefit from the IFDA by becoming a member and immediately start receiving many benefits to help them grow and sustain their business. Some of the benefits are:

  • Business health checks with business coaches providing support and guidance on critical business issues
  • Business mentoring days where members are matched with mentors to help them to develop their business strategies
  • Educational master classes through workshops focused on specific issues for start-up and growth businesses, such as finance, people, operations and marketing
  • Discount city centre trading pitches to attend events such as World Feast 'Bringing Foods of the World to the streets of Leeds'

You can read about what is currently happening or contact us today for more general information on the IFDA or to become a member.

Emily Boothroyd“If the opportunity to work with an academy like the IFDA had been offered to me when I was starting out I wouldn't have hesitated to sign up. When you start a food business you need all the advice you can get. To have someone you can turn to and run ideas past, someone that has been there, done that, has expertise in that particular area, be it accounting or event planning - is really an invaluable resource."
Emily Boothroyd, owner of Vietnamese-inspired street food business, Bánh mì Booth

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