James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, discusses the strength of Scotland’s food and drink industry, the opportunities and challenges ahead, and why our lead on collaborative supply chains will help ensure a bright future.
The Scottish food and drink industry is in a strong position. Autumn 2016 saw the announcement of a new record annual turnover of £14.4 billion. Given the value of the sector back in 2007 was only £10 billion and static, it has been quite a turnaround.
However, there is much work still to do in the face of unprecedented change in the world of food and drink. If you dig deeper into the large turnover number, you see both the success of recent years and the challenges ahead.
Remarkable growth in food manufacturing
Scotland’s food manufacturing growth has been particularly successful, running at twice the UK average for the sector. Between 2008 and 2014, the turnover in food manufacturing in Scotland rose 43% compared to 21% for the UK average in food and drink.
That’s a remarkable achievement and points to something very different happening in Scotland in terms of innovation, collaboration and reputation building.
Our new food and drink strategy
Our previous 10-year industry strategy has now come to an end. All focus is now on our new food and drink strategy, Ambition 2030, which was launched earlier this year.
Ambition 2030 is an ambitious, industry-led strategy that charts a course to 2030. It was shaped by an industry-wide consultation that worked closely with our strategic partners across the industry and public sector.
The strategy was informed by the 360 companies that are members of Scotland Food & Drink and many others too. Its success will depend upon the commitment of the partnership between industry, government and its agencies.
Much will change over the next 10 to 15 years in food and drink. Shopper habits are changing markedly, with people focused on convenient meal solutions, healthier alternatives, online ordering, new-style cuisines and much more.
Alongside that, Brexit brings its political and economic uncertainties. The European Union is the source for 30% of the Scottish food and drink workforce and it’s the destination for 70% of our food exports. Therefore, the future relationship with Europe is central to our future.
Opportunity and challenge
Like any major change, there will be a mix of opportunity and challenge. The balance between those two remains to be seen.
However, in a world of uncertainty and change, we benefit from the strongest ever platform on which to build. Scotland’s reputation for food and drink grows stronger each year. We are developing new customers in markets at home and overseas.
Culture of collaboration
Perhaps most important of all is a new culture of collaboration at the heart of our industry. Scotland Food & Drink is an industry body, but at our heart we’re a coalition of the public and private sectors, joining forces to grow value and reputation.
While Scotland is seen internationally as a model to follow, our collaboration must deepen further in the coming years. Nowhere is this more true than in parts of our supply chain. The successful growth of food and drink turnover sits in stark contrast to the health of some of our farm businesses. We need to develop collaborative supply chains to ensure reward is shared among every link within them.
That will require change by farmers and the rest of the supply chain but, as the foundation of much of the food and drink sector, achieving a financially sustainable model for agriculture is critical.
If we can tackle that, use the clear talent of our people and quality of our raw materials, embrace innovation and collaboration, then Scotland’s food and drink future will remain as bright over the next 10 years as it has been during the past decade.
Find out more about Scottish food and drink
A version of this article first appeared in World Class Scotland.
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