There has never been a more exciting time to enter the food business. Everywhere you look there seems to be a new restaurant, café, pop-up or food van opening nearby. When the weekend arrives, every square metre of available pavement and park space is filled with inventive vendors offering up a selection of different exotic cuisines. Britain is undoubtedly undergoing a “food renaissance”.
But only a fraction of these ephemeral enterprises make the leap to a more permanent business model. Blink and you might miss that van across the street selling your favourite Mexican-Polish fusion Bratwurst Tacos. That’s why Sir Richard Branson and Virgin have decided to launch a new competition to find Britain’s best emerging new food start-ups.
Virgin StartUp has already given up to £75m in loans to over 10,000 businesses, with the Britain’s thriving food industry a major recipient of these funds. Branson acknowledges that “Britain is living through a golden age of entrepreneurship with almost 5m small business operating in the UK. At the heart of this are innovative food start-ups, which are popping up all over the country”.
Fledgling businesses across the country are being invited to pitch to Branson in the hope of winning one of four awards available. Sir Richard will be joined by a panel of judges including Ella’s Kitchen founder Paul Lindley, and Hemsley & Hemsley founders Melissa and Jasmine. The judges will be looking for an operation that is not only delicious and profitable, but also eco-friendly and healthy. Melissa Hemsley wants a business that ensures “customers are truly eating well” as well as “operating as sustainably as possible”.
The four categories include the “Most exciting new brand” award for those looking to get noticed by larger supermarkets and have their products on shelves nationwide. Those looking to maintain their independence, either to make the transition from pop-up to permanent residence or to transform an existing restaurant into a franchise, are invited to compete for the “Tastiest start-up” category. There will also be a “Best healthy food business” award, as well as a prize for the “Most loved kids’ food” aimed at childrens’ brands.
The shortlisted start-ups will make their pitch as the Virgin StartUp Foodpreneur Fest 2014, taking place in September. The winners of each category will receive mentoring in the form of “money-can’t buy support to reach new customers” provided by Virgin.