FOR many years, the food and drink sector didn’t seem like a smart career choice. Always associated with long hours and poor pay, it was often the last option for people who had run out of others.
An added benefit of the current Scottish food and drink boom has been the way that outlook has changed.
Now we’re seeing increasing numbers of young people actively choosing the sector as a place to work. A record 120,000 are now directly employed in food and drink production, and that number is set to rise in the next decade.
But more than that, the industry is now attracting entrepreneurs with new ideas and fresh ways of working.
Josh Littlejohn is one of the new faces on the block. The 26-year-old economics graduate is the brains behind Social Bite, an Edinburgh-based sandwich shop aiming to change the way we think about lunch on the go.
A third of his staff are people who were homeless and every penny of profit from the business is ploughed into charities at home and abroad. The idea has been so successful, a second shop is now up and running in Edinburgh and next week Social Bite opens in Glasgow.
I met Josh at this week’s Hospitality Industry Trust conference in Glasgow, attended by the rising stars of the hotel and restaurant industry.
The keynote speaker was top chef Raymond Blanc, who at the age of 64, still has a drive for the business that would be impressive in someone half his age.
I asked him the secret of his success and he summed it up in one word. Passion.
That’s what all the new food and drink entrepreneurs share, and they need it to get through the disappointment, long hours and financial uncertainty.
But with the right product and the drive behind it, the rewards are immense. Here in Scotland there are increasing numbers of businesses built around passionate individuals with energy and flair.
Superjam founder Fraser Doherty used his gran’s old jam recipes to start his own company, and he now sells to the major supermarkets and across Australia, Russia and Scandinavia.
Add in Tony Stone and his growing Stoat’s porridge empire and the beer renegades James Watt and Martin Dickie with their Brewdog brand and you have a heady mix of fresh talent injecting passion and new approaches to doing business.
Last year, a Bank of Scotland report predicted 5,600 new jobs could be created in Scottish food and drink in the next five years.
If even a handful share the drive and spirit of the entrepreneurs we are seeing at the moment, the future could be even brighter than we hope at the moment.