Challenge to the food and drink industry

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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 have been forecast over the next five years. A new record annual turnover of £14.4 billion was announced.

The world of food and drink is evolving apace. 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. 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 sector. Success – and profit – needs to filter back to the farm gate and more collaborative supply chains can make that happen.

Political developments unleash 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 seen internationally as a model of success. Fostering an even stronger culture of innovation and collaboration will now be critical to drive future success.

Scotland Food & Drink, industry-led but working with government, is writing its new strategy. It will chart a path to 2030. The challenge is to innovate in the face of unprecedented change. Scotland can cement a global reputation for world-class produce.

l James Withers, Chief Executive of Scotland Food and Drink, speaks at The Scotsman’s food and drink conference next Tuesday: scotsmanconferences.com/viewconference.aspx?id=72