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Earlier this month, an event was held at Wellington Arch in London to honour the most inspiring icons in the fine food and drink industry. The event was hosted by Speciality & Fine Food Fair in partnership with Speciality Food and English Heritage to mark 20 years of the Fair, and saw the great and the good of the fine food sector gathered in celebration. While every industry has its icons, the fine food and drink industry can boast some of the most passionate of them all. Some of them are driven by a mission – to change the face of food and drink, to promote sustainability or to secure a positive future for the evolving sector – while some are driven simply by a love of what they do. The call went out across the food and drink industry and people responded in droves, eager to see their icons receive the recognition they deserve. Each of these icons will be celebrated at Speciality & Fine Food Fair, taking place at Olympia London on 1st-3rd September. So, in no particular order, here are the 20 Icons of Food & Drink.
“I want to change the way the world drinks,” exclaims Ben Branson, founder of Seedlip. The man who arguably single-handedly created the nonalcoholic spirit category in the UK – as a result of frustration at the lack of options out there for non-drinkers as well as a keen interest in herbs and his family’s farming heritage – Ben is a bona fide icon of the start-up sector. He’s driven by thoroughly honest influences, aiming to to “solve the dilemma of what to drink when you’re not drinking and continue my family’s 300 year legacy of working with the land. It drives me and my team,” he says, “and is just scary enough to keep us all on our toes!”
A true inspiration and food entrepreneur, Margaret started her business, Patchwork Pâté, with just £9 in the 80’s and now leads an incredibly successful enterprise. She has so much knowledge to share and gives back to the industry through mentoring young entrepreneurs and supporting other businesses through their journeys. “I care about people and how they make their living and what makes them tick,” she explains. “It gives me a real buzz to find out about other people’s lives and find ways to make what they do more focused, allowing them to achieve their dreams.” This openness extends to her experience, too: “I enjoy sharing my story with groups of people, who find it inspiring to hear that life is not all plain sailing and that to make it to the top of your game sometimes you have to keep on trying,” she concludes.
William Chase: the man with the Midas touch. From founding then selling Tyrrells to creating his own spirits, wines, snacks and apple cider vinegar products, thanks to a combination of hard work, determination and business nous, William is truly deserving of the title of ‘Food and Drink Icon’. “I love to own a process,” William explains, “from growing, manufacturing and packing to the final design. Tyrrells: From Seed to Crisp; Chase: Single Estate Spirits and now Willy’s ACV: From Apple to Bottle.” Despite his great success, William has held onto his roots – “The farmer in me enjoys nurturing the land to create a quality end-product” – but continuously keeps an eye out for the next big thing: “I enjoy spotting a trend and trying to own it, applying a healthy dose of brand magic to set my brand apart.”
The Guild of Fine Food, home to the Great Taste Awards and Fine Food Digest amongst other pillars of fine food, was founded by Bob Farrand – and with a number of Farrands spanning two generations now forming the team of directors, it’s an inspiring family affair. Since 1992, the business has been an integral part of the food and drink industry and we have Bob, his passion for food and bringing together, supporting and encouraging professionals – to thank.
“Peter Hannan is responsible for Britain’s finest steak,” read many, many responses to our survey. Peter has well and truly put Northern Ireland on the fine food map through his iconic business, Hannan Meats, giving lovers of incredible quality meat across the UK access to some of the very best. He is driven, he says, by “a true desire to produce great food, and to feed people well” and relishes “being a member of a great team, who share that passion and continuously strive to make good things even better.”
Paul is well-known throughout the speciality food industry for two things in particular: supporting artisan producers and promoting ethical business methods. He’s so passionate about the latter that he wrote a book on the subject, Forces for Good, and is a proud B Corp ambassador. “Right from the start, 20 years ago,” he explains, “I have believed that business should be a ‘Force for Good’ and be making the world a better place. This continues to drive us at Cotswold Fayre today.” The food and drink industry is a fitting home for such a business and icon: “We are fortunate to be based within the world of speciality food, where there are far more genuine, authentic leaders than in many other sectors,” he says.
As the founder of The Sustainable Food Trust and producer of the organic – and delicious – Hafod Cheddar, Patrick Holden is a pioneer of the sustainability movement so key to the food and drink industry today. Sustainability is hot in the headlines and on the lips of consumers and industry professionals alike, and Patrick is an authoritative and supportive figurehead for both. He was director of the Soil Association between 1995 and 2010, during which time he became a respected spokesperson and campaigner for the organic farming movement and now, in his role at The Sustainable Food Trust, he communicates and collaborates with forces across food and drink to inspire change and put it into action. Patrick’s aim is for us all to enjoy a healthier environment with more wildlife, increased diversity within our food culture and improved public health.
Founder of the now-iconic – and must-visit – Neal’s Yard Dairy, Randolph Hodgson is an elusive hero of the fine cheese world. Neal’s Yard is a vocal champion of quality British cheese, celebrating and promoting the makers who make it their life’s work, and tirelessly caring for the cheeses to ensure hardworking producers are supported and get the spotlight they deserve. “Cheese was made on thousands of farms all over this country before the Second World War, but by the time Neal’s Yard Dairy started in 1979 only a handful were left,” Randolph explains. “It seemed only right to seek out these remaining cheese-makers and bring their delicious cheeses to appreciative cheese-lovers. So that is what we did.”
Bruce has one of the most impressive Cvs of anyone working in food and drink today, and currently resides at London’s iconic Selfridges as Board Director of Food & Hospitality. He’s an icon of food and drink retail through and through, recognised and revered across the fine food industry. “There is so much that drives me within the world of food and drink,” he says. “We have many great ambassadors such as Chef Dan Barber from Blue Hill who creates delicious food out of un-coveted food by-products and in doing so has changed the way I think about food waste. In addition, innovation within food and drink inspires me. I love to see category and product disruptors like Ben
Branson’s Seedlip and Aecorn Aperitifs brands, whose highly innovative beverages have catapulted non-alcoholic drinks onto a platform that is as dynamic and exciting as their alcoholic counterparts. I feel so lucky to be part of this fascinating and vibrant industry.”
Alison is known for her integrity and honesty; philosophies which run through her iconic brand, Halen MÔn. No shortcuts or compromise allowed. “For the past two decades, we have been trying to make the very best product we can with as little impact on the environment as possible,” she explains. “Sustainability has been at our core, both in terms of our environment and our growth.” She and her husband and business partner David were recently visited by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and were recently awarded MBEs – both honours thoroughly deserved. Ultimately, it’s the people within the food and drink sector. “The best thing about working in food for me is the community,” she says. “Food ultimately brings us together.”
Edward’s brand, COOK champions great taste, and its products are prevalent throughout the food and drink space, providing discerning independent stores and shoppers honest food. “22 years after we started, we remain committed to our founding statement ‘to cook using the same ingredients and techniques you would use at home’ and equally committed to working in partnership with independent retailers.” COOK was one of the first B Corps in the UK, pioneering the new way of doing business that is about people and planet, not just profit.
30 years ago Spanish food was an unknown entity in the UK. Monika changed that by connecting Britain to the makers of the country’s very finest food and drink through founding Brindisa. “Since I was young I have always felt strongly about making food choices that improve things for everyone,” she says. “I spent many years living abroad, where I saw how vital food, agriculture and technology was to the survival and health of different communities and countries. Although our cosmopolitan life in first world countries is a world apart from day to day life in third world countries, we can continue to build strategies to protect people and the environment.” Supporting small scale businesses can build a bond between their lives and the British table. “We can choose to buy from small producers, paying a small premium for their skills and learning to taste the difference in the foods they make. After 31 years, this is one of our most valued assets and pleasures.”
Recognisable to anyone and everyone in the fine food sector, Mary – managing director of Quickes – is a force to be reckoned with, and her passion and personality enliven whatever room she’s in. Unsurprisingly, she received a good few nominations in the survey. One, which sums her up perfectly, reads: “I was fortunate enough to work with Mary for a number of years, and her absolute fanatical passion and dynamism – not just for her own cheeses but for many artisan producers in the UK and beyond – was a true inspiration that made me fall in love with the speciality food sector. Her vision and commitment to promoting the industry through the Academy of Cheese will make a significant and lasting difference.” She inspired by world class cheese created by people connected to their farming roots, and is a true legend of the fine cheese world.
John Shepherd heads up one of London’s most iconic retail stores which, through offshoots such as its outdoor market and Startisans, passionately supports burgeoning businesses. Partridges is a legendary pillar of Sloane Square, and John is one of the longest-standing faces in retail and a true expert in his field. “Over the 47 years of Partridges,” he says, “there have been different drivers at different times, such as the desire for success or sustainability or survival. Yet the desire to prove doubters wrong when necessary is perhaps the biggest driver of them all.”
As a key part of the Scotland Food & Drink team, Fiona’s vision to put the nation’s larder on the world stage culminated with her being named ‘food star’ where she led the initiative of the Year of Food & Drink, putting Scottish food and drink at the heart of the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup. “What drives me is a deep desire to support the producers who work tirelessly to bring quality food and drink to our tables,” she says. “Their stories, spirit and determination are a constant source of inspiration, from those who are upholding our food heritage to those who are creating their own traditions. I feel a responsibility to keep playing my part in the sector’s success and to celebrate the produce and people behind it.”
Tristram changed the landscape of the drinks industry by founding Toast Ale in 2016 to make great quality beer out of bread which would otherwise have gone to waste. He’s a vocal campaigner, with The Times labelling him “a genuinely revelatory contribution to the history of human ideas”. He states: “The food system is the single biggest impact humans have on planet earth: the biggest cause of deforestation, species extinction, soil erosion, water extraction and the biggest single source of greenhouse gases. We already know how to do food in ways that replenish nature rather than depleting it – and that it can bring humans together into companionship. Let’s make it happen.”
Supportive connections with the finest producers in Britain and truly tasty food are key to Guy’s approach as MD of Tracklements. “I’m unashamedly obsessed with hunting down the criminally overlooked and the downright delicious products that make up our range.” He’s most proud, he says, of “being part of a team that works with UK farmers, growers and suppliers in a sustainable and collaborative way to build a business for the long term supporting speciality retailers across the UK and beyond.”
“I enjoy dealing with the great variety of characters you meet in the food industry,” says Joe, rather than “the band of grey suits that dominate other industries.” As MD of The Cress Company and Route2, his main driver is “the desire to provide a genuinely valued service which meets and hopefully exceeds their expectation.” His agricultural background plays a part in his business approach, and he states that “anything which makes a contribution, however small, to promoting and supporting British agriculture and the UK countryside is also a great motivation.” An inspiring young entrepreneur indeed.
“Food is such a wonderful arena to be involved in and can be so versatile,” says chef Steve. He is passionate about food and cooking and has been since he started a Saturday job in a local restaurant at the age of 15. With a whole host of qualifications, diplomas and prestigious awards, Steve is a chef who cares. He cares about where and how the ingredients he uses are sourced, he cares about the people who make the product and the stories behind them, and above all, he constantly strives to champion speciality food using his voice as a platform. “I love being involved in all areas from produce to people,” he explains. “I have a genuine want to help showcase the great and the good of the food world. There is so much more out there than what is on a supermarket shelf – how can you not get excited over the global cuisines and products that are available? There is so much to try.”
In our survey, Ros was described as, “A phenomenal lady.” One who has “championed British cheesemakers and mongers through amazing leadership as MD of Paxton & Whitfield.” Ros is also a founding Director of The Academy of Cheese, an enterprise passionate about demystifying the world of cheese and sharing it with all, as well as promoting and supporting today’s vibrant British cheese sector. “It’s an honour to be named an icon of the speciality food and drink industry,” Ros says. “I am constantly inspired by the artisan cheese industry. Not only is it full of amazing products, it is also full of dedicated people who produce and sell world-class cheeses. With all these encouraging influences it makes my job so rewarding. I’m often told I’ve got the best job in the world!”