Associate Feature: A fresh perspective on the future of Scottish food and drink
Scotland’s food and drink industry really matters. Our footprint extends to every corner of the country, providing high quality careers and supporting our remote and rural communities. The sector accounts for 4.9% of employment in Scotland and in Aberdeenshire and the Highlands it’s 13.2% and 10.9% of employment respectively. Every day, we produce world-class food and drink using some of the most sustainable and innovate processes in the world, and we export to the world furthering Scotland’s global reputation as a trading nation. Above all, we produce the food to feed the nation.
Over the decade years the industry has had much to celebrate. It has enjoyed a period of unparalleled economic success, with record sales, employment, and start-up businesses- evidence of the ambition and entrepreneurial spirit running throughout the sector. In 2020, total turnover in the Food and Drink growth sector was £14,748.2 million. Latest figures for March 2022 show there are 17,495 registered food and drink enterprises representing 10.0% of all registered business in Scotland.
But recent years have been some of the most challenging in our history. Firstly, leaving the EU, our biggest overseas market and the destination for 70% of our food exports, has caused significant disruption. This was compounded by the global pandemic, which closed many domestic and international markets overnight, and the subsequent shutdown of the hospitality sector. Now, as we are recovering from these global shocks, we face a production cost crisis due to spiralling energy and ingredients costs and a chronic shortage of labour, compounded by record inflation. This ‘perfect storm’ of challenges has created a business environment where many of our members, large and small across multiple sectors, are extremely vulnerable.
Despite these challenges, it is critical that our industry remains resilient, not only as food security is an issue of increasing importance but also because, despite the short term headwinds, there is great confidence and determination in the industry that we will emerge stronger and more vibrant and poised for sustainable growth.
This is why Scotland Food & Drink, as the industry leadership organisation, has been working with our partners to produce a new national industry strategy – a strategy that will guide us through these unprecedented challenges, build our resilience, accelerate our recovery, and recapture those growth opportunities.
At the heart of our efforts will be a focus on our journey to Net Zero. Our industry is already doing superb work to reduce our emissions and carbon footprint, on land, at sea and through our supply chains. We know that this will create competitive advantage, and as an industry we are determined to position ourselves as a world-leader in sustainable food and drink production. But in order succeed the industry needs to be supported. This journey, can feel daunting, particularly for small producers, so we need to ensure that there is the right support across the industry and public sector to support their efforts.
We know the global opportunity for our products is enormous and, for some areas of the sector, largely untapped. There is a global opportunity for businesses and product categories to replicate the international success of our whisky and salmon producers.
The opportunity is also local. Retailers, wholesalers and restaurants across Scotland and the rest of the UK could be filled with even more Scottish products, and there is a large market on our doorstep that we need to take better advantage of. This includes the opportunity around food tourism, capitalising on visitors’ increasing interest in our food scene and, of course, experiencing the fabulous whisky tours offered by distilleries across the country.
There is much to do, but also much to gain. Scotland Food & Drink will work with our partners and the wider public sector to support the industry’s recovery and to build back stronger. Collaboration has been the hallmark of our efforts over the past 10 years and if we are to succeed, we need everyone – industry, Governmtent, enterprise agencies, academia – all pulling in the same direction to create the conditions for to support and grow this exciting, dynamic and world-class industry.
This article is sponsored by Scotland Food & Drink.
Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe