Start-ups rebooting the food and drink scene in Inverclyde

Ambitious plans for an £1.8m incubator are set to put Inverclyde on the food and drink map. Sarah Devine reports

The revamp will create a new food and drink hub in Scotland.
The revamp will create a new food and drink hub in Scotland.

Once the gateway for the finest ingredients, Inverclyde is once again set to be recognised for its food and drink industry thanks to the £1.8 million development of Scotland’s first incubator dedicated to the sector.

The Greenock-based Baker Street Food & Drink Enterprises is a unique hub that aims to put Inverclyde back on Scotland’s food and drink map by attracting new and small businesses to guide them through their expansion.

As Inverclyde is currently ranked 28th out of the 32 Scottish councils in terms of food and drink production, Riverside Inverclyde’s (RI) head of business investment and operations Andrew Bowman believes “the only way is up”.

The hub will be home for unique food and drink businesses.

The West of Scotland was once a bustling area renowned for its shipbuilding, fishing villages and harbours, through which the finest ingredients from across Scotland and the world would move.

Bowman says: “Back in the day, we used to be famous for our food and drink here in Inverclyde, particularly in Greenock with all the sugar coming in from the Caribbean and the amount of importing and exporting going on.”

In recent years, however, small businesses have been faced with financial barriers from having to invest in the refurbishment of empty industrial spaces, preventing new projects from taking off.

“We would have interest from food and drinks companies coming into the area, but they did not have the capital required or want to put that kind of investment into a building that they were only going to be leasing for a short period of time, which is understandable.”

Consequently, Riverside Inverclyde wanted to create something unique and pioneering that would generate a continuous flow of new firms and allow Inverclyde a second chance at success in the food and drink sector.

Until two years ago Bowman held the role of strategic executive assistant to the managing director of Zurich Insurance Group’s public arm in London, but jumped at the opportunity to return to his hometown to head up the business investment team with regeneration expert, Riverside Inverclyde.

“Attracting new businesses while stimulating growth within the existing business community is an exciting challenge,” says Bowman.

The hub, due to be completed next June, will include six manufacturing units of between 350 and 750 square feet, each with a dedicated kitchen area.

Shared office space, boardroom and storage for raw or finished products are also available.

It is hoped that the spaces will lead to collaboration between the businesses to create new ideas and to help each other learn and grow.

What makes the hub pioneering is a food and drink growth accelerator programme of which the companies will be part.

There will be funding support towards SALSA (safe and local supplier approval) accreditation and grants will be available for equipment and machinery from Inverclyde Council.

Bowman explains: “It is a package to try and get those individuals that are maybe doing the farmers’ market scene or see food as a side job to what they do currently and just need that little bit of support and confidence to grow their dream into a reality.”

Small food and drink businesses will occupy the space for two to three years and from there, move into a larger space within RI’s portfolio where support will be provided to find staff and apprentices, as well as funding.

It all comes as part of a £3.5m regeneration project to improve a famous area of Greenock, known as Baker’s Brae.

While Bowman acknowledges that there were more straight-forward sites to base the hub, regeneration is at its core, with half of Baker Street’s funding coming from the Scottish Government’s Regeneration Capital Grant Fund. The other half includes more than £600,000 from RI – as well as £300,000 from Inverclyde Council.

Inspiration came largely from Northern Ireland’s College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), which contains a food business incubation centre.

It has eight food processing units to facilitate entrepreneurs and already established food businesses wanting to develop and test new ideas.

Bowman says: “It is about 20 years old now and it enabled us to learn from their experiences and understand if there is anything they would do differently, what the market has told them, where have their successes and challenges been.

“From that we were able to sculpt our own version and we can’t thank CAFRE enough.”

The team also visited economic development agency Opportunity North East in Aberdeen to find out more about growth and sustainability.

It is not just through Baker Street that RI is rebuilding Inverclyde’s reputation for food and drink innovation.

The organisation launched Taste Inverclyde in December and it is already engaging with more than 100 businesses, having been established as the regional tool for supporting restaurants, bars and cafés, among other food businesses.

It also aims to add to the 700,000 visitors the area welcomes each year, including 150,000 coming from the cruise liners that arrive in Greenock.

One of the ways it has been doing that is through the launch of the area’s first food and drink guide, as well as a trail that is available on its website.

The project organisers have also launched the Taste Tent, where producers from in and around Inverclyde can showcase their goods at events including Gourock Highland Games and Scotland’s Boat Show in Inverkip.

Bowman says: “Once Baker Street is in place, I think that there will be a really unique offering in Inverclyde compared to other areas and it should lead to further opportunities for growth. We have been able to attract four new food and drink-based businesses now in Inverclyde before Baker Street is operational, and I think that the focus with Taste Inverclyde is beginning to equate to growth.

“Ultimately we have achieved what we set out to achieve, we are seeing an increase in manufacturing which in turn creates more jobs for Inverclyde within the sector.”

The organisation is working closely with the West College Scotland,

Glasgow Caledonian University, Edinburgh University, the Knowledge Transfer Network and Opportunity North East to pilot a best practice educational support for businesses.

Bowman adds: “Scotland Food & Drink has been a huge support for us as well through networking and putting us in touch with the right companies and individuals to find the right development.

“Our aim is to take us into the top 25 local regions [for food and drink production] by 2022 and that is in reality what has inspired the Baker Street hub to be built.”

Baker Street Food & Drink Enterprises

- Location: 28 Baker Street, Greenock

- Cost to develop: £1.8 million

- Part of a wider £3.5m regeneration of area by Riverside Inverclyde

- Six food manufacturing units

- Units from 350sq ft to 750sq ft plus shared office space

- On-site parking and security

- Due to open: June 2019

- Business growth programme to support the hub’s businesses

The Start-up Drinks Lab

An Inverclyde contract manufacturer of craft sodas is one step closer to shaking up Scotland’s soft drinks industry after receiving more than £75,000 from the Scottish EDGE Fund.

When Craig Strachan and Hannah Fisher decided to launch their own soft drinks brands they could not have imagined the lack of manufacturing services in Scotland available to small-batch drinks producers.

Strachan found challenges in finding bottling contractors that take orders small enough to suit his business model for Foal Drinks that would allow the business to be sustainable.

Fisher, who has 11 years’ experience in innovation and branding roles for spirits and beer producers, was finding a similar challenge when launching her brand Tongue in Peat.

Through Scottish Enterprise, the pair collaborated and founded the Start-Up Drinks Lab to support businesses at each stage of their journey.

They are renting units in Port Glasgow owned by urban regeneration company Riverside Inverclyde.

Strachan, a chartered accountant, says: “We want to be the go-to place if you have an idea for a new drinks brand and we can now help with everything right from the conception and ideas stage.

“That could be coming up with a brand name or any of the other marketing or branding activities and then moving on to product development.”

The team of six has strong manufacturing experience and includes expert food scientists who work with clients at different stages of the production process, from those who have just an idea or quirky take on an existing drink to larger SMEs who require only bottling.

Strachan says: “Clients will tell us all about the flavours they want, the levels of sugar, the calorific value and the colour of their drink.

“That would take anywhere between six and ten weeks to be finalised.

“Once we have that, we review the manufacturing recipe and we can give a price for the bottling of the product.”

The company offers a minimum order quantity of 500 litres, which equates to around 2,500 bottles, unlike most competitors in Scotland which start at 20,000 litres, according to Strachan.

The company has been funded by Scotmid Co-operative, the Scottish Government’s start-up loan scheme and Inverclyde Council and is looking to expand into distribution with an e-shop for artisan craft soda.

Strachan and Fisher also aim to have created 15 jobs at the company by 2021.

Strachan says: “The original concept was to be a manufacturer for small-batch craft soda.

“This absolutely will be and continues to remain at the heart of everything we do, but with our compounding license we can now also help alcohol brand owners get started.

“We want to be the solution for small-batch bottling.”

For more information, visit article is taken from The Scotsman's Annual Food & Drink Supplement which can be read in full here.