£50k funding to help make Scottish food healthier

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Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland has unveiled £50,000 of funding to help Scottish producers to make their food healthier. Food and drink businesses have a real desire to offer a wider range of healthier products – but the associated costs can be challenging. This is why FDF Scotland developed the Reformul8 Challenge Fund. This fourth round of support was made possible due to funding received from Scotland Food & Drink. The fund is open to small and medium sized food and drink businesses across Scotland – with up to £5,000 available for each successful business. The fund will be used for a wide range of activities. This includes accessing nutritional testing and technical support, working with ingredient suppliers to source and trial new innovative solutions that can improve the health of products and improving production capacity. The winners will be announced at a free showcase event – Celebrating Reformulation and Innovation for Health – hosted by FDF Scotland and Interface at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh on 26 February 2024. To date 46 businesses have been supported in their reformulation journey through three previous rounds of funding. Those winners include some of Scotland’s most-loved brands – Bells Food Group, Simon Howie, We Hae Meat, Border Biscuits, Dean’s of Huntly, Arran Dairies, Strathmore Foods, JG Ross and Cobbs Bakery. This has led to many success stories. Bells Food Group reduced the salt in their pie shells by 50% – taking almost nine tonnes of salt out of the Scottish diet – the equivalent to nine family sized cars. While Tower Bakery almost doubled the fibre content in some of their bread roll ranges to meet the Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations. Food and drink businesses have until 16 February 2024 to apply for the fund. Joanne Burns, Reformulation for Health Manager, FDF Scotland, said: “I am delighted to be able to support more Scottish food and drink manufacturers with the fourth round of the Reformul8 Challenge Fund. “Creating a wider range of healthier products can help food businesses to meet growing consumer demand for healthier options and to achieve public health targets. “The fund is a great way to help businesses kick start their reformulation journey. Along with bespoke help and guidance from the Reformulation for Health team we can help you get those products to shelf – improving the health of Scotland’s people one product at a time!”

UK food and drink makers secure Made Smarter backing

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SME manufacturers in the food and drink sector are the latest to secure backing from Made Smarter.

Brightside Brewing Company, Just Bee Honey, Studio Bakery, Chandley Ovens, Harbourside Products and Northern Pasta Company are among the latest wave of businesses starting their digitalisation journey to benefit their bottom line and the environment.

It means 300 businesses have now received matched funding from the government-funded, industry-backed initiative, to adopt technologies as diverse as sensors, robotics, 3D printing and artificial intelligence (AI).

Allison Metcalf, Managing Director of Studio Bakery, used Made Smarter support to create a digital roadmap and then invest in a new cutting machine.

She said: “Working with Made Smarter has been transformational for our bakery business.  At a time where we were rapidly expanding, they were there to support us. New technology has increased our productivity and made us more efficient. We’re now able to meet our increased orders and we’re ready for the next stage of our expansion.”

Brightside Brewing Company, a family run brewery, based in Radcliffe, invested in new technology to improve control.

Carley Friedrich, Director, said: “We’re extremely grateful for the help, support and training we’ve received by working with Made Smarter. It’s helped us take a critical look at our business’s digital needs, understand how to improve on weaknesses that were found as well as how to capitalise upon existing strengths.

“The grant we received towards our kegging equipment has also undoubtedly been a game changer. This investment gives us more control over a process which was previously totally outsourced, thereby providing more stability and autonomy for the business, increasing profitability and also upskilling our brewery team.”

Chandley Ovens, manufacturer of commercial bakery equipment, based in Hyde, has invested in new software.

Emma Pattison, Managing Director, said: “As a newly formed employee-owned business, with a brand new manufacturing site and a strategy focused on building a new future for Chandley Ovens, Made Smarter has been the perfect partner.

“Their support has enabled us to build an IT platform suited for our rapidly growing service business, to procure modern equipment and to develop our product ranges to lead the way in control, energy efficiency and ease of use.”

The 350 technology projects backed by Made Smarter over the last five years are forecasting the creation of almost 1,600 new jobs and over 2,850 upskilled roles, and are set to add £242m to the economy over the next three years.

With the Government committing to continue the North West adoption programme as part of a UK roll out, manufacturers are being urged to connect with Made Smarter to access the funded support on offer. This includes digital transformation workshops to create a digital roadmap, impartial and expert technology advice, leadership and skills training, as well as grant funding for digital internships and technology projects.

Donna Edwards, Director of the Made Smarter Adoption Programme in the North West, said: “I am incredibly proud of what the Made Smarter team has achieved over the last five years. These milestones are simultaneously a moment to celebrate, as well as a reminder that our work is by no means done.

“Our mission is to engage with the thousands of manufacturers out there who we are certain could benefit from our support. As such we are redoubling our efforts to reach more businesses, and to inspire and inform them about the benefits of technology adoption.

“For many this may be helping them take the first step to digitise manual and paper-based systems or using sensors to capture vital production data. But for others with a digital infrastructure in place, they may be ready for more sophisticated, boundary-pushing technologies such as analytics, machine learning and AI, which are evolving at unprecedented speed.

“Digital isn’t coming – it’s arrived. Adopting technologies at the right time and in the right way is the key to unlocking real benefits for industry, society and the planet.”

Future of North Brewing Co secured

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The future of North Brewing Co has been secured following a sale out of administration to Steve Holt of Kirkstall Brewery. Howard Smith and Rick Harrison of Interpath Advisory were appointed Joint Administrators of North Brewing Company Limited, North Brewing Leisure and North Brewing Management Limited on 25 January 2024. Based in Leeds, the Group traded under the ‘North Brewing’ brand, and supplied several supermarkets and casual dining chains nationally, as well as exporting to 27 countries worldwide, trading through its own taprooms and bars and selling to pubs and bars across the country either directly or via beer wholesalers. In line with many companies within the hospitality sector, Covid-19 had a materially adverse impact upon the Group’s financial performance, as Government restrictions forced the business to close for extended periods of time between 2020 and 2022. In more recent months, the Group had also faced rising costs including energy, labour, and raw materials, which had an impact on cashflow. In response to this, the Directors sought to explore a number of options, including a sale of the business. When it became clear a solvent solution could not be found, they took steps to file for the appointment of administrators. Immediately following their appointment, the joint administrators sold the businesses and its assets to Vertical Drinks Limited and Kirkstall Brewery Limited (as part of one transaction). The transaction safeguards the future of the brewery in Leeds, as well as the North Taproom bars in Leeds and Manchester. A total of 78 members of staff have transferred to the purchaser as part of the deal. North Brewing Co will continue to be an independent brewery operating from its Springwell site and will be run by the existing management team. The new company will be known as Vertical Drinks Ltd T/A North. The transaction does not include the North Taproom in Birmingham, which will close, resulting in 15 redundancies. Tom Swiers, head of food and drink at Interpath Advisory who advised North Brewing Co on the transaction, said: “North Brewing Co is a renowned craft brewer that has forged an excellent reputation over the years for the quality and innovation of its beers. “We are pleased to have completed this transaction which represents an exciting tie up of brilliant beer brands based here in Leeds. The deal will allow the Group to move forward under new ownership and we wish the purchaser and the management team all the best for the future. “We’d also like to thank our advisors for their work in helping drive this transaction to a successful conclusion.” The joint administrators were advised by Charles Boyne, Kiri Hutton and Shauna-Leigh Thompson at Weightmans, with the purchaser being advised by Daniel McCormack and David Smyllie at Lupton Fawcett.

New investment boosts The Gluten Free Kitchen

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North Yorkshire business, The Gluten Free Kitchen has been boosted by new investment as demand soars for its gluten and ‘free-from’ food. NPIF – FW Capital Debt Finance, which is managed by FW Capital and is part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, has provided a six-figure loan to assist The Gluten Free Kitchen with its growth and the creation of five new jobs. The business was established in 2005 by Sue Fleming after she saw the challenges faced by people with coeliac disease when sourcing good quality food that is free from gluten. Sue began to experiment with a series of recipes and created dishes which are today available from The Gluten Free Kitchen’s online store. A selection of products are also available in a selected number of Waitrose Stores, online at Ocado, as well as independent outlets and farm shops throughout the UK. The product range includes ‘free from’ cakes, puddings, and savoury pies. Sue’s Gluten Free Kitchen started in the village of Aysgarth in North Yorkshire and moved to larger production facilities and a retail outlet in Leyburn. The business plans to move to larger premises in the Leyburn Business Park to accommodate the increased demand. Sue Fleming, director at The Gluten Free Kitchen, said: “Our ‘free from’ ethos is centred around flavour and quality. I’m proud to have created a delicious range of foods that doesn’t compromise on flavour. The increased demand for our product ranges means we need more staff who will also be part of our expansion journey into larger premises. “We’re fit for bursting at the moment and are excited to be creating more jobs. Without the support of Keith Charlton and Lindsey McMenamin at FW Capital we wouldn’t be able to do this.” Lindsey McMenamin, portfolio manager at FW Capital, added: “Sue’s passion for the business is evident and she has created a successful and innovative brand which provides consumers with gluten intolerance with a wide variety of choice. The Gluten Free Kitchen is today a prominent brand serving the UK coeliac community. “With demand for ‘free from’ products rising, Sue needed further working capital to support the creation of new jobs and the expansion of the business. I’m thrilled to be part of this and help The Gluten Free Kitchen with their next stage of development.” FW Capital was introduced to Sue at The Gluten Free Kitchen by Barry Gill at TIG Corporate Finance and consultant Karen Wyndham-Webb.

Müller brings Cadbury to milkshake format

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Müller Yogurt & Desserts is bringing Cadbury to milkshake format for the first time in the UK and Ireland. With the flavoured milk category growing +4% YoY, the business is targeting category growth by continuing to expand and optimise its portfolio of products. Marking the Cadbury brand’s first launch in the bottled milk drinks category in the UK and Ireland, from 24 January, shoppers in Sainsbury’s will be able to purchase Cadbury Creamy Chocolate Milkshake and Cadbury Creamy Chocolate Caramel Flavour Milkshake. Made in the UK using milk from British farms and Cadbury milk chocolate, shoppers will be able to purchase the 250ml singles from other retailers from March onwards. As the dairy company continues to drive growth in the convenience and wholesale sectors, the long lasting ambient recipe provides a three month shelf life. The launch will be supported by out of home marketing and PR, with a wider multimedia campaign rolling out later in the year. Justin Cook, CEO at Müller Yogurt & Desserts, and Nikhilesh Brahma, VP Global Licensing at Mondelēz, said: “We’re thrilled to be part of this exciting collaboration that brings together the classic, creamy taste of Cadbury with our commitment to crafting irresistible treats. “We’ve taken the iconic taste of Cadbury and transformed it into a luscious, smooth milkshake that sets a new standard for indulgence within milkshakes. A new chapter in this enhanced collaboration – that started with desserts – and now expands into milkshakes with Cadbury, the nation’s favourite chocolate.” Müller UK & Ireland produces chilled desserts and milkshakes under licence from Mondelēz International.

TraceGains snaps up NutriCalc

TraceGains, a compliance and networked product development software firm, has acquired NutriCalc, renowned for its highly accurate nutritional calculation software. Gary Nowacki, CEO of TraceGains, highlighted NutriCalc’s robust nutrition calculation capabilities, emphasizing TraceGains’ already strong presence in compliance and product development. “We’re excited about this acquisition because it offers a unique opportunity to drive industry advancement by merging top-tier nutritional calculation, reporting, and labeling solutions with TraceGains’ established compliance and product development leadership,” said Nowacki. The integration of TraceGains and NutriCalc enhances the supply chain’s ability to tackle new product development and reformulation, along with global safety, environmental, social, and governance (ESG) challenges, as well as rapidly evolving consumer preferences. Dr. David Bartley, Founder of NutriCalc, said: “Since developing NutriCalc 30 years ago, it has become the industry standard in nutrition labeling across the globe at companies both large and small. Our acquisition by TraceGains fuels the development of future innovations to the product and provides an immediate benefit to customers today by linking them to a robust ingredient marketplace and streamlining their processes. The combination of these products is powerful.” With customers distributed across US, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America, NutriCalc has proven capabilities and global market acceptance. With this acquisition, TraceGains inherits NutriCalc’s wealth of nutritional information and unrivaled precision. In turn, NutriCalc now has access to TraceGains’ vast network of over 70,000 supplier locations and a database of more than 500,000 searchable ingredients and items. Greg Heartman, VP of Product Management at TraceGains, stressed the significance of integrating NutriCalc into the TraceGains networked ecosystem. “This move enriches TraceGains’ offerings in the Food and Beverage sector, focusing on simplifying and automating processes, integrating AI solutions, and enabling manufacturers and suppliers to leverage digital transformation,” he said. Nowacki noted the market’s enthusiastic response, with new clients onboarded even before the official announcement. “This acquisition counters the trend of overpriced, inferior solutions in the market, offering a superior, integrated solution at competitive prices. TraceGains and NutriCalc together deliver unparalleled value, cementing our position as a market leader,” he said.

Unifrutti acquires Verfrut

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Unifrutti, a premium fresh fruits production and distribution firm, has acquired 100% of Sociedad Exportadora Verfrut S.A. (Verfrut), a key South American fruit producer and exporter. Established in 1996, Verfrut is a prominent fresh produce player with presence in Chile and Peru, where it operates over 7,500 hectares of fully integrated farming and processing facilities. Verfrut grows a wide array of crops, including grapes, cherries, apples and blueberries, is renowned as the largest exporter of grapes in Peru and relies on a robust commercial and distribution network in the US, the EU, South America, and China. This acquisition represents an important step in expanding Unifrutti’s integrated and sustainable global multi-fruit platform. With Verfrut’s inclusion, Unifrutti becomes a major fruit company in Chile, one of the largest production centers for grapes and cherries globally, and a leading apple player in the southern hemisphere. Furthermore, this acquisition strategically extends Unifrutti’s reach into Peru, a key hub in the fresh produce sector. This move aligns with Unifrutti’s objective to meet increasing global demand for premium high-quality fruits, emphasizing its commitment to sustainable growth and reinforcing its leadership in the dynamic global fruit industry. The acquisition also extends access to a wider range of premium produce for the Group’s customers, with consistent, secure, and diversified supply. Completion of the acquisition is subject to satisfaction of closing conditions, including regulatory approvals. Post-completion, Unifrutti will maintain Verfrut’s global operations, ensuring business continuity. Mohamed Elsarky, Group CEO of Unifrutti, said: “Our acquisition of Verfrut is a strategic milestone, propelling Unifrutti’s growth and reinforcing our commitment to excellence and innovation. “This expansion not only enhances our current operations but also paves the way for future growth, as we aim to become the preeminent and most sustainably driven global multi-fruit company, setting new standards in the industry. “This transaction also resonates deeply with our shared family-owned heritage, and we are humbled and privileged to be entrusted with Verfrut’s 30-year legacy, collaboratively forging a regional champion in Chile and Peru.” Romano Vercellino, founder and President of Verfrut, said: “We are making an excellent decision with this transaction. Verfrut is our life. After many years of hard work together with our great team, we are confident that Unifrutti will maintain our values that have guided us since the establishment of Verfrut. We look forward to the next stage of our successful journey.”

HARIBO appoints firm to deliver Castleford factory expansion

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HARIBO UK has recently received planning approval for a new, purpose-built warehouse at its Castleford site. This new facility will help meet increased demand for products. Now, HARIBO has appointed local firm Caddick Construction to deliver this expansion. The site in Castleford first started producing HARIBO’s treats in 2015. The new warehouse facility will allow HARIBO to manage increased volumes of finished product, stock more raw materials and packaging, and will help safeguard 600 jobs across both its West Yorkshire sites. Jon Hughes, Managing Director of HARIBO UK and Ireland, said: “Following another successful year, we’re pleased to have recently received planning approval for a new, purpose-built warehouse at our Castleford site. “We expect to break ground and begin construction soon and are delighted to have appointed local Yorkshire construction firm Caddick Construction to support the build. For fifty years, we’ve been part of Yorkshire’s sweet-making tradition, and we continue to invest in our two sites in Pontefract and Castleford to deliver delicious treats for our consumers across the UK. “The new warehouse will mean that we can create more moments of childlike happiness, and the investment demonstrates our commitment to Yorkshire as a centre of excellence for food manufacturing.” Paul Dodsworth, Caddick Construction Group’s Managing Director, said: “Our appointment to HARIBO UK’s expansion plans is very exciting for Caddick as we grow our manufacturing portfolio. “As a Yorkshire business, we’re very proud to once again be leading on a development that will boost industry and employment, making this great region home to world-leading manufacturing. We are looking forward to starting work on site and working with HARIBO UK to fulfil their expansion plans.”

Heather Mills rescues VBites

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Heather Mills has swooped for the assets of her plant-based business VBites, sealing a rescue deal with administrators worth £1m. Founded in 1993, VBites is a manufacturer and wholesaler of plant-based meat and cheese. The company operates from two manufacturing sites in Peterlee, County Durham, and Corby, Northamptonshire. VBites fell into administration in December, with James Clark and Howard Smith from Interpath Advisory appointed joint administrators. The company had recently seen increased pressure on cashflow due to the impact of rising raw material costs and energy prices, as well as a softening of consumer demand for alternative protein products in the wake of the cost-of-living crisis. The directors sought to explore their options, including making attempts to secure additional funding. Unfortunately, however, a funding agreement was unable to be reached, leaving the directors to seek the appointment of administrators. Following an accelerated sales process run by Interpath Advisory pre-Christmas, according to reports seen by The Grocer, a £1m bid from the Mills-owned Vegan Solo Consulting beat five other offers. Speaking to The Grocer, Mills said she had re-employed a large amount of staff affected and was taking charge of the business. In a statement on LinkedIn, Heather Mills said: “I was devastated when VBites was forced, unnecessarily with 3 days notice, into administration. It was agreed between both shareholders that we would always give each other three months notice, knowing the figures 6 months ahead set for the company, so I was doubly shocked that it went straight into administration, even though I gave viable solutions. “But I strongly believed that the next-generation technology that VBites had developed and the work it had done still had a huge role to play in assisting the transition of the food market to a healthier and more sustainable place. I was also not happy being told that many of my loyal and hard-working staff were losing their jobs. “I was cut out of everything. “This is why I have chosen to resurrect the company myself, at great personal expense, and take control of the operations personally, moving back to the North-East to ensure that we are still able to make a positive contribution to the future of our global food economy. “We have already developed a version 2.0 of plant-based food, soon to launch, that we believe will be a market mover and will help all of those people attempting to make a flexitarian or plant-based/Vegan transition achieve their goals more easily, both with variety and deliciousness.”

Aramark producer & new supplier showcase comes to Food, Drink & Hospitality Week for 2024

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Aramark UK, the foodservice and hospitality giant, will be on the hunt for innovative, sustainable and passionate suppliers and partners at the 2024 edition of IFE, part of Food, Drink & Hospitality Week, when the event returns to ExCeL London on 25-27 March. In a Dragon’s Den-style event, a panel of Aramark’s highly experienced operators will hear short pitches from emerging and established brands alike, in order to showcase their products or services. The most exciting brands will be launched into Aramark sites across the country. The opportunity is open to all exhibitors taking part in IFE and sister events IFE Manufacturing, The Pub Show and HRC. Stephen Brennan, Vice President, Supply Chain & Procurement at Aramark UK, says: “The previous edition of the Showcase was a huge success for Aramark, allowing us to discover and connect with a range of great brands and businesses, some of whom have gone on to become incredibly successful and trusted partners. “For 2024 we’re excited to be expanding the showcase and inviting all suppliers to the hospitality sector with innovative products and services, to apply for the chance to pitch to our panel of foodservice experts. We’re particularly keen to hear from SMEs, diverse businesses and social enterprises, who are participating in IFE this year.” Federico Dellafiore, Event Manager for IFE, adds: “This is a fantastic opportunity for suppliers taking part in IFE and our sister events to get in front of leading industry buyers, pitch their products and demonstrate their unique value proposition. As one of the biggest brands in international foodservice, Aramark spans hospitality, leisure and retail and is always on the lookout for supplier partners to improve its offering to clients and consumers around the world.” Following the first-round review of entries, a shortlist of applicants will be invited to pitch at The Producer & New Supplier Showcase at IFE in March where they will have the platform to impress an Aramark UK panel of directors, buyers, operations and culinary teams. At the end of The Producer & New Supplier Showcase, the panel will provide final feedback and successful suppliers will begin the exciting process of launching their products into the Aramark Foodservice business. To find out more and apply to enter, visit ife.co.uk/the-producer-showcase-by-aramark. Entries close on 11 March 2024. The Producer & New Supplier Showcase is open to exhibiting companies only. To find out more about everything happening at IFE 2024, and to register for your free trade ticket, visit ife.co.uk.