Stephen Jardine: Bold bid to make food and drink our top industry

Ambitious vision is good news for the sector and for Scotland says Stephen Jardine

A plan is being hatched to make Scottish food and drink the country's most valuable industry by 2030.
A plan is being hatched to make Scottish food and drink the country's most valuable industry by 2030.

This weekend represents a brief breather in a packed couple of weeks for Scottish food, drink and hospitality. Last week delegates gathered in Glasgow for a giant trade fair celebrating the industry. Meanwhile in a hotel next door, industry leaders met for their annual conference as part of Scottish Tourism Week. The mood was upbeat on the basis of positive figures from the past year but with Brexit and a second independence referendum on the horizon, all eyes were on what the future might hold.

Next week the future moves a step closer when Scotland Food & Drink unveils it’s new strategic vision up to 2030. The First Minister will be there because the vision developed between Scotland Food & Drink and 20 partner organisations could not be more ambitious or important to Scotland.

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I understand at the heart of it will be a 13-year plan to make food and drink Scotland’s most valuable industry by 2030. That is a bold, game changing commitment. Until now food and drink has been important but to elevate it above manufacturing, finance and oil and gas to the top of the economic pile would be a colossal achievement.

How will that be achieved? That requires change. Until now exports have been the main focus for Scotland’s food and drink sector with goods sent abroad set to top £7 billion this year. I believe the new strategy will introduce as much emphasis on home consumption as exports. It is an old chestnut that too much of our great produce goes abroad but key players in the industry are convinced we are only scratching the surface when it comes to potential for increased consumption at home.

The commitment to growing the home market could also have a special outcome politicians and everyone else would like to see. Despite numerous campaigns and initiatives, our poor health record is remarkably resistant to change. Scotland has been consistently missing it’s dietary goals for more than 15 years and 65 per cent of the population is now overweight or obese.

A key point of the new strategy will probably be a commitment to making sure the food and drink industry is part of the solution to health and diet issues rather than being part of the problem.

The final piece of the jigsaw this week is likely to be skills. There are real concerns about the impact on the industry if workers from Europe are lost post Brexit. The 2030 strategy is certain to have a heavy focus on developing skills and attracting new people to the sector to plug any potential labour gap and to build for the years ahead.

Together it looks to be a bold and exciting plan for the future but it will come at a cost. The industry itself is already committed to invest to deliver the vision but the Government will also put funding in place if the scale of the ambition is to be achieved. The presence of the First Minister at the launch suggests that commitment is likely.

Scotland’s food and drink sector is a success story that just needs leadership and investment to become the biggest thing we’ve got. If it can also make us a healthier nation, that is something we can all get behind.