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CHEERS TO A NORFOLK FOOD AND DRINK SUCCESS STORY

30th Mar 2017

A few weeks ago in this column I wrote about how our county’s failure to build a ‘Made in Norfolk’ brand for our food and drink means that the county is punching well below its weight in national and international markets – given that we produce as much as ten per cent of the nation’s food.

So I’m delighted to be able to report on a rare success story, which has seen a resolutely Norfolk product reach consumers not just across the UK, but beyond our shores as well.

Wild Knight English Vodka was the brainchild of Beachamwell couple Matt and Steph Brown.  This husband and wife team were previously the marketing brains behind the creation of the Norfolk Peer potato brand for Heygate Farms in Swaffham, one of the few successful attempts to put Brand Norfolk on supermarket shelves beyond the county’s borders.

You may think of vodka as being an intrinsically Russian drink, but Wild Knight takes as its principal ingredient Norfolk barley, one of those foodstuffs that our county does better than anyone else in the world, and which deserves to be celebrated.

Not content with creating a Norfolk vodka, the couple’s latest creation is if anything an even bigger celebration of the county’s agriculture.  Their newest venture is a caramelised vodka, combining that Norfolk barley with caramelised Norfolk sugar beet, to create a truly delicious and very moreish vodka liqueur.

With Norfolk barley and Norfolk sugar beet, it’s hard to think of how they could have made a drink which celebrates the county better.  To cap it all, they have named the new drink after Norfolk’s most famous son: Nelson’s Gold.

Now, there are plenty of great products being made by artisan producers across which make the most of our local produce.  But what puts Wild Knight and Nelson’s Gold in very select company is that they have managed to create a brand which is making waves beyond the county’s – and the UK’s - borders.

It is telling that Matt and Steph’s background is not in food and drink, but in marketing.  They understand that having a passion for the product, essential though that is, is not enough.  You have to be equally committed to telling the story far and wide, and that is where we generally fail, and why in the rest of the country, Norfolk does not enjoy the reputation for fine food and drink that its produce deserves.

At the launch of Nelson’s Gold last week, Matt told me how the original Wild Knight vodka can now be found in places as far-flung as Dubai, and the couple continue to seek out new markets. 

As we career headlong towards cutting ourselves off from the world’s biggest single market, finding consumers further afield will become ever more essential.  But for most Norfolk food and drink producers, the tariff-free market of the United Kingdom remains largely untapped, so impending Brexit is no excuse for adopting a drawbridge mentality when it comes to brand-building.

Norfolk Peer potatoes, Wild Knight Vodka, and now Nelson’s Gold, are showing that with the right marketing skills, we really can build a reputation for the county’s food and drink far and wide.  It is not enough just to be good at producing food and drink, nor in restricting its promotion to consumers in Norfolk who will be naturally drawn to a local product.

I gather that the next step for Matt and Steph Brown is to create a Norfolk rum (which will be called ‘Ensign’, continuing the Nelson theme).  A sugar-based spirit is an obvious next step in creating a range of Norfolk spirits.  I look forward to being able to raise a glass to another Brand Norfolk success story.

This article was first published in the Norwich Evening News and the Eastern Daily Press.