James Withers: Scotland can cement a global reputation for world-class produce

Scotland is increasingly seen internationally as a model of success in food and drink, writes James Withers

Published 15th Sep 2016
Updated 15 th Sep 2016

Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight began last week amidst a flurry of positive figures for Scotland’s food and drink industry. 14,000 new jobs and 26 per cent growth in the sector has been forecast over the next five years. A new record annual turnover of £14.4 billion was announced.

Yet whilst it is a time to celebrate success, in many ways, Scotland's food and drink journey is at a crossroads. The world of food and drink is evolving at pace. Shopper habits are changing markedly.

In 2016, consumers are focused on health, convenience, value and provenance – preferably all in a single product they can buy online and get delivered the same day.

This will challenge food producers and supply chains. On the latter, there is work to do. The success of food and drink masks huge challenges our farmers face. You will struggle to find a Scottish dairy farmer who will feel he or she is in a booming industry. Agriculture is a foundation for many of the 116,000 jobs in the food and drink sector.

Success – and profit - needs to filter back to the farm gate and more collaborative supply chains can make that happen.

Political developments are unleashing their own upheavals. The 30 per cent of our workforce that is Eastern European and 80 per cent of food exports that go to the EU suddenly make us feel vulnerable in the face of Brexit.

Yet, amidst change there is always opportunity and Scottish food and drink has the strongest ever platform to build from. Scotland is increasingly seen internationally as a model of success in food and drink.

Fostering an even stronger culture of innovation and collaboration will now be critical to drive future success.

Scotland Food & Drink, industry-led but working in collaboration with government, is writing its new strategy. It will chart a path to 2030. The first strategy was written almost a decade ago, when growth was stagnant and many questioned whether food and drink was worth the effort.

That question has been answered emphatically. Yet, it is clear this next challenge, to innovate in the face of unprecedented change, must focus all our minds. The prize is equally clear; Scotland can cement a global reputation for world-class produce.

Flavour Profile Q&A: Rory Stone, director of Highland Fine Cheeses

• James Withers, Chief Executive of Scotland Food and Drink, speaks at The Scotsman’s food and drink conference next Tuesday (20th September)

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