Adam Hardie: Whisky blazes trail out of the doldrums for food and drink

Brand Scotland gives a powerful reassurance that what you are buying is of the highest quality, writes Adam Hardie

Published 15th Jul 2016
Updated 6 th Oct 2023

There’s certainly change afoot in Scotland’s economy. While political uncertainty and declining oil revenues will inevitably dominate the conversation, less is being said about the areas of significant promise.

It’s time for plan B, or should that be plan F&B? Food and beverages are now the shining light of the UK’s manufacturing industry and “Brand Scotland” plays a huge part. Scotland excels at exporting high quality produce.

The whisky industry is a trailblazer in this area. Globally, Scotch whisky is a premium product whose value has doubled in the past 10 years. But what about other food and drink products? The industry as a whole is gathering pace and following suit. People are willing to spend, and spend big.

Scotland’s food and drink is on an upwards trajectory and there is clearly an appetite for all we as a country have to offer. Industry turnover stands at £14.3 billion and exports are worth £5.1bn.

Having the best quality food and drink produce allows businesses to take a leadership position and “premiumise” their brands. Scotland has clout on both the national and international stage because we have a well-deserved reputation for quality, from Scottish beef, seafood and shortbread, all the way to cashmere and golf at the Old Course, St Andrews. Brand Scotland gives a powerful reassurance that what you are buying is of the highest quality, with strong provenance behind it.

And therefore the good news is that, whatever your views on the result of the EU referendum, our premium food and drink is relatively protected from any knock-on effects as the industry sets its sights on other markets, both on our doorstep, and around the world. London and the rest of the UK are a captive and willing audience right under our nose and shouldn’t be overlooked. We are a nation of people who care about what we eat, we’re willing to spend more for premium products.

Asia presents real opportunities, with a 600-million-strong affluent middle class which covets premium Western products, and increasingly Western food and drink. The Chinese have been buying Scotch whisky for years and there is real opportunity to ride on the coat-tails of that success in this vast marketplace.

Our track record with whisky can also help to promote our craft beer, which offers quality and a premium experience for consumers. Scotland has around 130 craft breweries, and the UK as a whole boasts 1,400, more per capita than anywhere else in the world, and with craft beer growing at an astounding rate of 23 per cent annually, the market value is booming.

Of course, Scottish food and drink is an integral part of the hospitality industry. Increasingly, high quality produce drives people towards their destinations and the farming community is excelling in this area, with more than 200 farm shops across Scotland now selling fresh quality produce, and many incorporating a café to fuel hungry shoppers. By reinventing themselves as food producers and not simply farmers, they can charge a higher price for farm-fresh food.

Brewers and distillers have also noticed the “food tourism” trend, developing tours for the public to peek behind the scenes of production (for a price). Mirroring the whisky industry, brewery trails, chocolatier trails and even ice cream trails are popping up across Scotland showcasing our top tipples and treats.
My advice for Scotland’s food and drink industry boils down to this: collaboration and “premiumisation” are crucial. Producers in the whisky industry have been collaborating for years, from growing crops to bottling. Only once they go to market do they compete. To continue its success, the food and drink industry must work together as a unit whilst challenging participants to create the highest quality produce.

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Scotland also needs to follow whisky’s example and work harder to engage with international customers. Follow this recipe for success and Scotland will be dining out on the food and drink industry for years to come.

• Adam Hardie is a partner and head of the Food & Drink team at Johnston Carmichael. Acting for 350 food and drink businesses, its clients include industry body Scotland Food & Drink, Walkers, Stewart Brewing and Stoats


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