For those who like their jargon, there is a new phrase in town: Industry 4.0. In other words, the fourth industrial revolution is coming.
Mechanisation, the creation of the mass assembly line and the birth of computers took care of the first three industrial revolutions. The next one represents the rise of smart technology. Whether it is artificial intelligence, augmented reality, big data or robotics, the world of work is about to get very interesting indeed. The change will transform our lives and the products around us in a way that will make the arrival of the iPhone look archaic.
For Scotland’s food and drink industry, a £14 billion economic powerhouse and Scotland’s biggest employer, a new age of innovation needs to be forged.
Of course, innovation is not new to our sector. You’ll find a food-producing farmer in Scotland today who began his career behind a horse and plough and is now driving a combine harvester guided by satellite. Yet, we now need to be hungrier to innovate than any generation before us.
In March this year, the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership launched Ambition 2030, a bold plan developed by the industry and public sector to double the size of the industry and cement Scotland’s global reputation as a Land of Food and Drink.
In an unpredictable world of Brexit and Trump, we refuse to use uncertainty as cause for paralysis. Now is not the time to obsess about the factors out with our control, but to focus on those within it. This means developing our brand, investing in our own development and targeting markets across the UK and internationally.
Transformational new technology is already here. In KFC in China, you can already pay for your meal with just a smile. That same facial recognition software will soon mean we are greeted on arrival at restaurants with personalised menus, designed around individual dietary preferences. Alongside this new technology, consumers are also asking more questions of the origin of their food.
All of this means that innovation in our farming, fishing, food and drink community might be the most important aspect of unlocking our 2030 ambition. That means new products, new packaging, new processes and new machinery. It means new people with new skills and a next generation of smart labelling that will showcase the provenance of our products.
The good news is Scotland has never been better equipped to support farming, fishing, food and drink navigate this changing world.
A new service which has been backed by our enterprise agencies and developed by the industry itself - Make Innovation Happen - launched recently to provide a one-stop-shop of advice and support for any food and drink business looking to change and innovate.
The service has Connectors based throughout Scotland, waiting at the end of the phone to help businesses big or small with support, from unlocking funding to finding the right one of our world-class academic institutions to work with.
We could stand still and let the world change around us. Alternatively, we could redefine Scotland as the world’s great innovator, with our food and drink industry leading the way.
To contact Make Innovation Happen, call 0300 013 3385 or visit www.makeinnovationhappen.scot
James Withers will be talking at The Scotsman Conferences annual food and drink conference on November 14: Ambition and Innovation: The future of food and drink in Scotland. For more information and to book your place visit The Scotsman Conferences website today.