We must focus on the home opportunity for the food and drink industry to continue its success, says Scotland Food & Drink's James Withers

Last week saw the release of more remarkable export figures for Scotland’s food and drink industry, when it was ­confirmed that export sales of ­whisky and salmon hit record highs last year.

Scotland has boasted the UK’s ­biggest drink export for some time but, in Scottish salmon, it is now also the home to the UK’s largest food export.

Those two-star players are creating a halo effect for all Scottish products in international markets.

However, what does this all mean for our market at home, across ­Scotland and the rest of the UK?

Sales here have risen sharply too, increasing by 40 per cent in recent years. Domestic markets remain hugely important, with Scottish food producers selling roughly £3 in the UK for every £1 overseas.

This means we must focus hard at home, opening new opportunities right on our doorstep. Scotland Food & Drink, alongside its other industry partners and supported by ­government, has set a target to ­double the value of the sector to £30 billion by 2030.

We are not the only sector with ambitions. The tourism industry also benefits from an industry body showing real leadership in the ­Scottish Tourism Alliance, with its own 2020 targets driving growth. Crucially, the fate of both our tourism and food and drink industries are interconnected.

Food and drink represents a fifth of tourist spend and a good hospitality experience drives repeat visits.

Sampling the very best of our ­natural larder when visiting sits near the top of the ‘must-do’ lists of international visitors.

Seventy per cent of Scots also believe food produced here is of higher quality than elsewhere and almost half of Scottish shoppers say they will try to buy even more local food in the future.

All this means we have to better connect local food producers with those selling food and drink in Scotland.

Scotland Food & Drink is focused on opening sales opportunities across Scotland for producers and we recently launched the Showcasing Scotland regional events to introduce local producers to buyers of Scottish produce, from farm shops to local hotels and restaurants.

The first of five new, major trade events which will open up sales opportunities for businesses, takes place next month at Hampden Park in Glasgow.

A flagship Scottish Government-funded initiative – Connect Local – is a partner in the project, running workshops in the build up to the event itself to strengthen suppliers’ capability and knowledge so, when they meet new buyers, producers can make the most of that opportunity.

Last October, the national Showcasing Scotland event attracted buyers from 18 different countries as well as across the UK. Millions of pounds in sales were secured over a couple of days.

So, it’s now time to take the concept to a local level to provide a range of prospective buyers with the opportunity to grow their Scottish offering by introducing them to the very best Scottish producers, all under one roof.

The future is bright for food and drink in Scotland and we have big ambitions. But there is much work still to be done. That is particularly true right at home where we can still do much better in giving resident Scots and visitors from elsewhere the opportunity to enjoy the same produce which is now making its mark in the far corners of the globe.

So, if you’re selling food and drink in Scotland in any capacity, get yourself to one of the upcoming Showcasing Scotland regional events, meet our best local producers and help play a part in cementing our reputation as the Land of Food and Drink.

• James Withers is chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink. To find out more about Showcasing Scotland regional events, please visit www.showcasing.sco

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