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Battle launched to save Staffordshire food producers' champion

By Kerry.Ashdown  |  Posted: June 24, 2014

Anthony Froggatt

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Heart of England Fine Foods (Heff) is entering voluntary liquidation, its board of directors announced last week. But supporters have rallied round to keep the Shropshire-based not for profit company, which has 15 staff, running.

An online petition has been launched, http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/66664, calling on the Government to do all it can to ensure Heff’s survival. And users of social networking site Twitter have been urged to tweet Business Secretary Vince Cable (@vincecable) to call for support, using the hashtag #saveheff

Petition founder Nigel Harrison said the firm had “supported countless food businesses across the central England region”. “Its loss will have a significantly detrimental effect on the local and wider UK economy,” he added.

Anthony Froggatt, founder of the award-winning Just Oil and Just Crisps brand, is one of the many Staffordshire producers supported by Heff. His family has been farming for four generations and Heff enabled them to turn their rapeseed crop at Hill Ridware, near Rugeley, into food products sold all over the country.

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He said: “We started Just Oil in 2007 and it’s very much down to Heff helping me to get going. I would never have started the business without them; we were farmers who didn’t know anything about retail but they helped me with design work.

“I’m really sad as a producer, it will leave a big gap. (Heff chief executive) Karen Davies ran it really well and they were really professional people. It’s a real shame, this kind of organisation is needed.”

Heff worked with producers across the heart of England for 16 years, providing business support and promoting their wares to retailers. They also ran an annual award scheme and hosted a cookery theatre at the Staffordshire County Show, featuring demonstrations by local chefs.

A “significant loss of funding”, following the early termination of a six-year contract with Shropshire Council to manage the Shropshire Food Enterprise Centre, has been given as one of the reasons for the decision to enter voluntary liquidation. Funding from UK Trade and Industry (UKTI), initially allocated in January to support Heff’s international work, failed to materialise and slow trading across other areas of the business was highlighted by the directors last week.

They said: “This decision has not been an easy one to take and does not reflect the hard work and commitment of the team of 15 staff, but as a board of directors we have no other choice.

“The closure of HEFF will have significant repercussions for business across eight of the English counties. Whilst the immediate job losses at HEFF will be 15 the knock on effect is likely to see hundreds of jobs within small businesses put at risk.”

“As a board we are rightly proud of Heff’s achievements over the years. These are due to the support of partner businesses we have worked with across the supply chain, the dedication and commitment of directors and members of staff, past and present, and the quality of food and drink being produced by our members. Over the past 16 years it is estimated that Heff has created and safeguarded in excess of 2,000 jobs and supported at least 2,800 food and drink manufacturers.

“Even at this late stage, we are hopeful that a solution may be found before a meeting for shareholders which will be convened by Rimes and Co on the 9 July 11am at Stone Manor Hotel, Kidderminster. A meeting for creditors will follow the shareholders meeting with the purpose of confirming the appointment of a liquidator.”

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