Food and drink producers aim to add 5,600 jobs

First Minister Alex Salmond, pictured on a trip to the successful Tunnocks biscuit factory near Glasgow. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
First Minister Alex Salmond, pictured on a trip to the successful Tunnocks biscuit factory near Glasgow. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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SCOTLAND’S powerhouse food and drink industry is poised to create 5,600 jobs over the next five years as firms use the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup to showcase their produce, a report published today suggests.

Two-thirds of producers expect to take on extra staff by 2017 as the sector – which already employs some 50,000 people – aims to hit its own targets for growing output by £500 million to £12.5 billion over the same period.

More than 40 per cent of firms want to increase exports, with Asia, the Far East and South America replacing western Europe at the top of their hit-lists.

The report comes just a day after the Scotch Whisky Association revealed exports of Scotland’s national drink rose by 11 per cent in the opening six months of the year to just shy of £2bn.

Scotch sales, which account for about a third of total food and drink exports, have been boosted by demand in the United States and emerging markets.

James Withers, chief executive of Scottish Government-backed industry body Scotland Food & Drink, said: “The food and drink industry has been 
Scotland’s best-performing domestic sector in the past five years and its fastest-growing export sector.

“Ambitious sales and export targets are in place for 2017, but the rapid progress so far means we are having to upscale our ambitions already. Achieving this level of growth will not only represent success for the industry but also for Scotland with the potential to create thousands of jobs.”

Withers added: “The hosting of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup and second Scottish Homecoming next year will provide an unprecedented opportunity for the industry to play to its strengths.

“But the legacy opportunity beyond 2014 could be worth much more as many thousands of visitors return home with a taste for Scottish produce and hundreds of millions of television viewers are left with a positive image of what Scotland has to offer.”

Alasdair Gardner, managing director of commercial banking at Bank of Scotland, which compiled today’s report, said: “The creation of up to 5,600 jobs will be a very welcome boost.”

Colette Backwell, director of the Scottish Food & Drink Federation, highlighted the work being done to bring apprentices into the industry.

Yet producers still face a raft of challenges, including rising raw material costs and how to crack overseas markets.

Gary Reid, managing director at bakery Reids of Caithness, said: “The worldwide recession has meant buyers are more wary about trying something new and are sticking with products they are sure will sell.

“That makes it harder to try and get listed in the first place but also means retailers are less willing to give a product time to get established.”

Alan Hill, finance director at Dumfriesshire-based meat processor Browns Food Group, pointed out: “Those businesses too reliant on one customer or product may not be able to pass on any increases in raw material costs.”

Market research consultancy BDRC Continental interviewed staff at 100 companies. The respondents expected to create 940 jobs, which Bank of Scotland extrapolated to suggest the industry as a whole would add 5,600 roles.