Stephen Jardine: How we can help take local global

SPARE a thought for the people working hard to promote food and drink in Essex. They seem to have their work cut out. The website for Gourmet Essex has a new posting this week – a recipe for lamb and apricot curry. Local and seasonal seems to be a threat rather than a promise.

Here in Scotland, it is a very different picture. This week the Scottish Government revealed remarkable growth in the food and drink sector with exports up 19 per cent last year to £5.4 billion. At a time of economic boom that would be a strong performance – in the midst of a global recession, it is phenomenal.

Scotland has already passed the food and drink export target set for 2017 with whisky the strongest performer. White fish and shellfish exports are also doing well but the big surprise is the 62 per cent increase in fruit and vegetable exports.

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Who would have thought it? Just a few years ago comedians were joking about chips being the Scottish version of a side salad. Now fruit and veg is our fastest growing food export.

Scotland’s food and drink success story is down to a perfect storm. A lot of things have come together at the right time to provide the circumstances for growth. Consumers are more concerned than ever about what they eat, local producers supplying premium product, we have the support systems in place to allow these companies to take it to international markets and we have a government committed to making food and drink a key economic and social driver.

Amazing progress, but continuing the success story depends upon extracting full potential from every sector and ensuring we are geared up to make the most of new markets.

From April, Scotland Food and Drink and Scottish Development International will have a joint dedicated resource on the ground in China and that is a model that can be rolled out in other new markets. South America, China and the Middle East are all areas where premium product matters.

For the Scotch beef and lamb and the shellfish industry, there are huge opportunities only just opening up.

Salmon is our biggest food export but it still has scope for great growth. The shellfish industry is only now establishing the business models needed to make the most of worldwide demand. Game has seen huge domestic growth in that last 12 months. That is likely to be followed by more demand from Europe and the United States.

When it comes to growth and expansion in food and drink, we have a unique worldwide asset. The whisky industry saw exports grow 23 per cent last year to £4.23 million. It is a shining example on our doorstep and from it we can learn how to develop, package and take to market a product the rest of the world wants. And all because it comes from Scotland.