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Shropshire's Food and Drink Industry Boom

Shropshire is famously known as the birthplace of industry, but there is a very specific industry that has enjoyed a boom in the county of late - food and drink. The region has always been synonymous with agriculture, and is home to a number of well-known international dairy brands, as well as various popular food and drink events.

The industry has firmly cemented its place in the Shropshire business landscape, and the future looks bright for all those involved in the food and drink sector.

Agriculture and farming

Agricultural land use accounts for the vast majority of the total land area in Shropshire, so it is perhaps unsurprising the industry plays a significant role in the region. While more than half of the agricultural land is grassland, over one-third is crops and fallow. Livestock breeding and rearing is most commonly associated with the south and south-west of the region, while the north and north-west is the home of most dairy holdings.

Beth Heath, Operations Director of Ludlow Food Festival and Chief Executive of Shrewsbury Food Festival - who has been organising food events throughout the county for the past 13 years - says Shrewsbury has a "fantastic" food and drink history. Ms Heath explains: "We are truly blessed in our location as we're able to literally produce anything (except fish) in the county. We have vineyards to fields of vegetables and salads, dairy farms to acres of wheat."

Local consumers are lucky because they not only have speciality foods in abundance, but they have them right on their doorstep, she added.    

The makeup of the Shropshire land therefore makes it the ideal setting for a burgeoning food industry, and is perhaps instrumental in why big-name companies choose to set up shop here.

Müller and Heart of England Fine Foods

One of these major names is Müller. First established in Bavaria by Ludwig Müller in 1896, the company that began as a village dairy has grown into a Europe-wide success story - and in the UK this success story is rooted in Shropshire.

In 1991, Müller began construction of a £30 million state of the art production facility in Market Drayton, with the location handpicked because of the region's reputation for producing high-quality milk and its many local dairy farms.

An additional £20 million was pumped into the facility in 1997, while HRH the Duchess of York opened a £55 million dairy extension in 2001. Nom Dairy UK, another major dairy business located in Shropshire - boasting a £40 million production site in Telford - was purchased by Müller in 2013.

These production units have helped to establish Müller as a favourite yoghurt and dairy brand in the UK, with well-known products including Müller Corner, Müllerlight and Müller Rice.

Heart of England Fine Foods is another recognised name in the food and drink industry that calls Shropshire its home. The not-for-profit company is based at Shrewsbury College and is the Regional Food Group for the West Midlands. It was established in 1998 and works with various food and drink businesses, aiming to create increased opportunities for trade via the numerous initiatives it backs.  

Food and drink festivals

Holding popular food and drink festivals is a great way for a region to showcase its fine and varied produce, and Shropshire boasts these in abundance. These events are highly valued by companies and customers alike, with the gatherings presenting new business opportunities and providing a fun day out at the same time.

The Ludlow Food Festival, the Ellesmere Food Festival, the Shrewsbury Food Festival, the Whitchurch Food and Drink Festival and the Oswestry Food and Drink Festival are among the many food events held in Shropshire, all of which provide a platform for local Shropshire producers to show off their wares.

Indeed, more than 160 small independent food and drink producers gather each year inside Ludlow Castle for the Ludlow Food Festival alone. The event - full name The Ludlow Marches Food and Drink Festival - includes talks, demonstrations, markets and tastings, as well as various trails such as the sausage, ale and festival loaf trails. 

The Ludlow Food Festival dates back to 1995, and was the brainchild of members of Ludlow and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce. These individuals identified a food festival as a great way to entice visitors to the region's shops, while also promoting local food and drink producers. The event has since grown to what it is today - a huge gathering of food experts and food lovers, who flock to this pocket of Shropshire to enjoy the very best produce the region has to offer.

The future of the food industry in Shropshire

The food and drink industry has a very strong foothold in Shropshire at present - it is the largest manufacturing sector in the county, in which more than 4,400 people are currently employed. As well as the aforementioned Müller, Nom Dairy UK and Heart of England Fine Foods, other large international manufacturers attracted to the region include The Cheese Company, Arla, Kerry Foods and Anglo Beef Processors. But what about the future? Will the sun always shine over the Shropshire fields?

Well, it seems the right steps are being taken to make sure this is the case. Thoughts have already turned to how the farmers of today and tomorrow will be catered for, with an example being the opening of the £1 million RD Park Dairy Centre at Walford and North Shropshire College's Walford Campus. It is hoped the development will help to educate farmers of the future, and includes two new parlours, feeding and handling facilities, two loose houses and a holding area to help achieve just that.

The opening of the facility underlines the commitment in Shropshire to ensuring the agricultural industry remains healthy and continues to flourish in the years ahead. This determination, coupled with the region's rich agricultural history, should be the driving force that helps to preserve the strong link between Shropshire and the very finest food and drink.

Beth certainly believes the industry will continue to flourish, not least because of determined efforts to meet customer expectations, improved food education through television programmes and the media, and the imaginative minds of producers who are keen to create the very best foods.

Shropshire, she added, will be at the forefront of this, thanks to the combined passion of its producers, chefs, business owners and customers. "This is the best recipe for success that a county can have. Passion breeds a thriving economy that can only grow into the future."