Functional beverages and premium chocolate are two of the food and drink categories being eyed by a investment fund set up to provide finance for small UK firms amid the economic downturn.

The Spayne Lindsay Consumer Brand Fund has been set up by financial advisors Spayne Lindsay and is being backed financially by senior food and drink executives.

Industry experts, including ex-Numico and Diageo executive Chris Britton, Birds Eye CEO Martin Glenn and former Heinz CFO David Williams are among a panel of backers of the GBP10m (US$14.3m) fund, which is looking to invest in promising consumer goods businesses.

John Spayne, co-founder of Spayne Lindsay, told just-drinks sister publication, just-food, that the fund can offer growing businesses capital and industry expertise.

"It's really leveraging decades of experience about how to successfully grow small businesses," Spayne said. "That may come through turning up at a pitch to Tesco to help clinch a new listing, or the fund suggesting to the investee company that perhaps it would have more success in the foodservice channel than the grocery channel - or that there is a serious opportunity on the continent."

Spayne said the fund, which is expected to close for subscriptions on 3 April, would target UK firms to benefit from government tax breaks. He said the fund would look to take minority stakes in each business and spend up to GBP2m on each investment.

"We're not trying to take over or control an investee company. The idea would be to spot the winners and support good-quality, determined management teams by providing value-added capital."

Spayne revealed that the fund is already looking at "a number of investment opportunities".

"At the moment, let's say we have about six live investment opportunities - of those about four are in the food and drink sector. From a sentiment point of view, it's a defensive area. It's also a reflection on the panel and our firm's own history of 20 years of working in the food and drink industry."