Coming together to create Scotland Food & Drink just over a decade ago has been a fundamental reason that the industry has gone from static growth to becoming the nation’s fastest growing major sector.
Of course, the fact we are home to a larder of world class products and talented producers means we’ve always had the ingredients for success. However, we’re now starting to unlock our full potential.
One of the most important drivers of change has been the creation of a national identity for our food and drink.
Scotland’s growing reputation at home and overseas as a Land of Food and Drink follows the similar, successful models in other small countries who have become players on the world stage.
Ireland and New Zealand have worked hard to create their own national reputations and Scotland is now reaping the rewards of that approach too.
As a result, we are no longer a country trying to kick-start growth in food and drink, but now one with an ambition to double the size of our sector to £30 billion by 2030.
So why do national brands matter? They are particularly powerful for countries like Scotland because we are selling more than simply our products.
We’re selling a story of provenance and authenticity, of heritage and innovation.
From trade shows in Tokyo, to showcases in Los Angeles, to food festivals in Wigtown, Scottish producers are telling a collective story which is far more powerful than anything they could tell on their own.
From our award-winning meat and seafood, to small-batch gin and craft beers, innovative bakeries and dairies, people now associate Scotland with quality and provenance.
Of course, there is more to do, particularly within our own shores.
As our tourism industry – driven forward by the work of the Scottish Tourism Alliance – embraces its ambition for the future, we must ensure quality, local food and drink sits at the heart of every visitor experience.
That strong home market for our food and drink producers will be the platform from which international ambitions can be realised.
Today, we have a global team of trade specialists in 13 cities around the world, funded by both industry and government money. A unique arrangement that works.
Our food exports are now 130 per cent higher than they were a decade ago with new relationships being developed in new markets every day.
The recently launched “Scotland Is Now” campaign, co-ordinated by Visit Scotland, is the next obvious step forward in building a national brand.
If delivered well, it should provide the vehicle to drive forward all of Scotland’s major industries, whether it be textiles, tourism or food and drink.
It can articulate the values we stand for and the quality we can deliver.
As our industry seeks to navigate the seemingly never-ending Brexit chaos, Scotland’s brand story will become even more important.
You may envisage a future of new barriers to the movement of goods or people.
Alternatively, you may see the opportunity of new export relationship beyond Europe or closer ties to customers at home.
In either scenario, promoting Scotland as the best place in the world to work and do business with will be critical to our success.
James Withers is chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink.
This article featured in The Scotsman’s Food & Drink special. A digital version can be viewed here