Like a growing number of Scots, I am proud of Scotland’s increasingly famous food and drink industry. It is one of our biggest sectors, both domestically and internationally, and has grown massively since 2007.
Scotland is home to both the UK’s biggest food and drink exports – salmon and whisky – and thanks to our superb products, our export market is booming, surpassing £5.1 billion last year. This is an industry – already worth more than £14 billion to the Scottish economy – that I want to see continuing to grow and flourish, with businesses revelling in the success of a growing global appetite for quality produce with Scottish provenance.
Recently, 100 of Scotland’s food and drink businesses gathered at Gleneagles for Showcasing Scotland, organised by Scotland Food & Drink, Scottish Development International, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and supported by Perth and Kinross Council. Those who exhibited were aiming to make inroads with key buyers from the UK and overseas – and they did.
Much like its inaugural event last year, Showcasing Scotland 2015 was a resounding success, with 150 buyers representing 19 different countries, including our key export markets North America, France, Germany, Middle East, Singapore, Japan and China, coming together to sample the fantastic food and drink we produce in this country.
Showcasing Scotland is the ideal way to promote our food and drink industry and it was great to see so many buyers. This was also the perfect platform to put the spotlight on our new products – including seaweed, which has been hailed internationally as a superfood, and craft gin, which Scotland is becoming as well known for as its whisky.
Last year companies that exhibited forecast almost £20 million of additional sales as a result of taking part. Feedback from this year’s event suggests that will be surpassed, with at least 1,200 businesses meetings arranged between buyers and producers.
I was struck by something James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said following the phenomenally successful two-day event when he told me that for him this year’s Showcasing Scotland was one of the most significant events for Scottish food and drink in recent memory.
It’s demonstrated how far Scotland has come – we now have the ability to draw in senior trade representatives from around the world to do business with Scottish food and drink companies, and just as we see Italy and France as culinary heavyweights now more and more people around the world are now seeing Scotland in a similar light.
But this event also emphasised how much opportunity there still is on our doorstep. A third of the buyers who attended Showcasing Scotland were from UK firms representing big supermarkets and contract caterers to high-end specialist wholesalers.
As we near the end of Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink celebrations, Showcasing Scotland 2015 may well turn out to be the most important event delivered for the country’s food and drink businesses since 2007. I have no doubt that it will provide a further boost to this phenomenally successful sector, and I am eagerly awaiting the post-event reports from this year’s exhibitors.”
l Richard Lochhead is Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment