As the new year begins, it’s time for our annual food and drink review of the year and this should be an easy one as 2015 was dominated by Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink.
Coordinated by Visit Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government, the 12-month celebration was intended to spotlight, celebrate and promote Scotland’s natural larder and quality produce to locals and visitors.
Look back 20 years ago visitors to Scotland just tolerated the food but research shows it now drives the tourist economy here in a way it never did in the past.
But there remains the thorny problem of our own relationship with food and drink. There has always been an appetite overseas for our raw ingredients – the refrigerated lorries taking shellfish and seafood to Paris and Madrid provide ample proof of that.
However the message has never sunk in at home.
Hopes that the Year of Food and Drink would change that were dashed at the start of the month when Food Standards Scotland published their report “Scottish Diet: It needs to change”.
It concluded a poor diet is deeply rooted in Scottish life and hasn’t changed significantly in the last 15 years, despite the enormous growth of the food and drink sector and overseas exports.
We still consume too many calories, too much fat, sugar and salt and not nearly enough fruit, vegetables, oil-rich fish and high-fibre foods. The problem is worst in the most deprived areas, indicating years of health education have changed little.
The report was a depressing end to the Year of Food and Drink celebration but it should also be a wake up call to us all. Booming exports and a thriving restaurant and food production scene mean nothing if we are still dying too early from diet related ill health.
And 2016 may be the year the Scottish Government needs to get tough using legislation where education has failed to change health outcomes but we all have a part to play.
One of the highlights of 2015 was a visit to Scotland from Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini to share the lessons of how Italy continues to eat well. His message that we all need to wake up and turn away from industrialised food and instead grow, bake and cook from scratch could help make all the difference.
The other big story of the past 12 months has been the continuing change in food and drink retail habits. The decline in the traditional supermarket sector has been dramatic as the discounter stores build market share and consumers return to the high street.
Asda’s sales were down 4.5 per cent in the last available quarter while Tesco’s share price has slumped 42 per cent since April. This year ended with a series of restaurant launches in the capital and more new places are due to open for business in 2016. The increased competition will be good news for customers but it’s unlikely the growth can continue without some casualties along the way.
With the Year of Food and Drink now at an end, it’s back to business as usual for the sector in 2016 but with the enhanced confidence the year has delivered. The biggest challenge for us all is living and eating the way we can rather than the way we always have. Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.