There couldn't have been a better time to set out our stall. According to the IGD, 60% of all shoppers now make a point of 'buying local'. Provenance and authenticity are bywords for high quality.
Regionality has united public, producer, purveyor and politician in the appreciation of the fact that aesthetic, socio-economic and environmental benefit is proportional to the proximity of our dinner tables to where our food is produced.
Nevertheless, ours is a lofty ambition for a diverse industry and we face a number of challenges. The enterprises we represent are competing in an increasingly global market with little appreciation of parochial charm and little room for aspiring newcomers. For the small artisan producer, this means continually having to inspire public commitment to retain the confidence of independent retailers. For provincial manufacturers with national or international ambitions, it means attracting investment and managing growth while keeping an eye on margins and quality within the constraints of a supply chain directed by the major supermarkets.
There is also equilibrium to be achieved in marketing the region - balancing local sourcing (selling to ourselves) and regional speciality (selling our heritage and expertise to a wider world). The region attracts 22 million visitors each year, spending £8bn, 31% of it on food and drink. This offers considerable potential for local producers.
Anticipating the challenges, we knew the only way forward was a strategic approach. Only by mapping out a series of interrelated initiatives could we hope to support the whole of the south west's food and drink industry. This strategy not only delivers a vision of what could be achieved through the next decade, but also provides a basis for government agencies and others to prioritise their support effectively.
Firstly, we're tackling market development, encouraging more local sourcing, establishing new markets and promoting more effectively. Through supplier development programmes we provide guidance, market intelligence and networking opportunities. We've introduced suppliers to retailers and caterers. We've created exhibition opportunities under the region's umbrella brand - buyers appreciate that suppliers they meet come with the support of a regional marketing campaign that adds value.
Secondly, SWFD is facilitating the development of producers and processors, providing training and practical support that delivers more efficient processes, inspires innovation and provides essential skills. We created a development service, delivering free consultations to budding companies. Through our skills network we're building (and retaining) an effective workforce.
Thirdly, we continually reinforce every link along the food chain from farmer to consumer, encouraging healthy food and emphasising the impact of purchasing power.
But has this approach worked? So far we've made good use of £2.5m of regional development agency support to deliver more than 300 free consultations, additional turnover in excess of £20m, more than 160 new jobs, trade show openings for more than 150 exhibitors, more than 2,000 consultations and training courses for 3,000 employees.
Not a bad start - and positive proof that sound strategy and shared vision delivers success.