David Thomson: Industry must have appetite to survive and thrive

Environmental innovation, technology and engaging with the next generation is key for future growth, writes David Thomson

Scottish brand Tunnocks has announced an expansion of its Uddingston factory. Picture: Robert Perry
Scottish brand Tunnocks has announced an expansion of its Uddingston factory. Picture: Robert Perry

Food and drink is an essential part of everyone’s lives and is critical to the success of our economy. In Scotland, our food and drink manufacturing industry employs 34,000 people, representing more than 19 per cent of all manufacturing.

With exit from the EU on the horizon it is more important than ever that our economically vital companies are constantly innovating to ensure that they continue to thrive in a changing environment. Businesses could, for example, find ways to reduce their environmental impact which could also save them money; invest in new technology or equipment that could increase production; create new products or reformulate existing products to meet consumer demand; or invest in current and future staff. Upskilling the workforce and recruiting new talented individuals is essential to driving future innovation and growth.

However, food and drink is facing a skills gap, particularly in food science, technology and engineering. By 2024, Scottish food and drink manufacturing is going to need 19,000 new talented recruits to meet the skills needs of the sector. At the Scottish Food and Drink Federation promoting careers in food and drink is therefore a top priority. Through our schools work, A Future in Food (supported by the Scottish Government), we help teachers, pupils and parents better understand the wide variety of careers the industry has to offer and how to access jobs. Part of this involves creating and supporting long-term partnerships between schools and food and drink companies that help teachers to deliver the school curriculum. Pupils learn where their food comes from and how it is produced and also gain practical skills via real life experiences and active engagement with industry.

One such partnership involves Scottish-based seed potato company Agrico UK teaming up with Glamis and Eassie Primary Schools in Angus. As part of the company’s award winning project, Tattie Tastic, P6-7 pupils take part in site visits where they meet the staff, finding out what their different roles involve and learning all about potatoes and the journey they make from farm to fork. The pupils then have the chance to plant, grow, harvest and cook their own potatoes as well as designing and developing marketing campaigns. Investing in new technology or equipment to upscale production can allow companies to enter new markets or meet increased demand in current markets. Top Scottish brand Tunnock’s has announced an expansion of its Uddingston factory in Lanarkshire to increase production. At the moment the company produces 10-12 million biscuits and cakes each week including 5 million caramel wafers and 3 million tea cakes. New and improved equipment will be installed which will enable the company to produce even more products to meet increased worldwide demand. This will allow Tunnock’s to safeguard the jobs of the 532 local people it already employs and to provide an additional 30 jobs. This investment will also have a positive impact on the Scottish economy.

Ivan Wood & Sons, a wholesale merchant and processor of fruit and vegetables based in Fife, has found innovative ways to become more sustainable and save money at the same time. The company bored its land for spring water which now supplies 100 per cent of the business and domestic water usage. This saves around £24,000 annually by not using mains water. Ivan Wood also invested £130,000 to install a 40kW solar panel system. This runs the refrigeration system and provides electricity for the warehouse and offices. As well as reducing the bills by 80 per cent, it also generates around £12,000 per year from the feed-in tariff. It is also helping other companies to be more sustainable. Managing director Malcolm Wood designed and was granted a UK patent for his Peel Tech water filtration system which allows waste to be separated from water, meaning there is no waste discharged into drains. Water, which is up to 100 per cent starch-free, can then be recycled along with potato peel, either in a bio-digester system or further processed for animal feed.

There are many ways food and drink companies can innovate, but there are barriers as well. Many need the funding, support or advice to do so. In particular the micro- to medium-sized businesses that make up 97 per cent of the sector. SFDF’s Scottish Parliamentary Reception on 14 September will give us the chance to discuss what more can be done to support these companies to continue to grow into the future.

• David Thomson is CEO of the Scottish Food and Drink Federation