Food and drink is currently worth £5.4 billion – an all-time high. From 2007 to 2011, food exports have increased by an incredible 63 per cent and there are currently 330,000 people employed in the sector in Scotland. That’s 21 per cent of the entire Scottish manufacturing workforce. There is much reason to be proud. So what’s behind this incredible success?
The recipe is simple: provenance and progressive brands.
A glance at the menu of any one of Scotland’s 16 Michelin-starred restaurants will show that the country’s chefs need not look abroad to find top-quality ingredients for their menus. Yet, top chefs elsewhere do look abroad to Scotland; at the time of writing, smoked Scottish sea trout is sharing a plate with Russian Ossetra caviar on the menu of the three-Michelin-star Per Se restaurant in New York.
Scotland’s seafood is sought-after across the world, with exports of around £650 million – thanks in no small part to our largest food export, salmon. Many of the other treasures of our rich natural larder, such as beef, game and dairy, are held in equally high esteem abroad. Indeed, France, which has a deservedly high opinion of its own gastronomic contribution to the world, was our best export customer until 2012 and still remains in the top three; a compliment by anyone’s standards.
Scottish produce is perceived overseas as fresh, natural and high-quality. Provenance is key. But as Scottish chef Mark Greenaway said last year, although the rest of the world appreciates our ingredients, it thinks we don’t know how to use them.
This is where Scotland’s brands come into the mix.
In recent years, Scottish food and drink brands have successfully leveraged their provenance to reposition the nation with global buyers. Now, when buyers think of Scottish brands, they are aligning those brands with the produce at their core. They are thinking “natural, fresh, quality”, “modern” and in some cases “healthy” (believe it or not). Scotland the Brand is being reinvented in the food and drink sphere.
But it is the ambition and innovation of the brains behind these brands which have led to this success.
Progressive Scottish brands are aspiring to take more than their fair helping of the global marketplace, not only in terms of their origin from a small nation, but in terms of their own size as new players in the Scottish market.
Innis & Gunn epitomises that underdog success. It has made incredible inroads into the export market. Established in 2003, it has become the most popular British bottled beer in Canada, and second most popular in Sweden. Around 80 per cent of the company’s sales now come from overseas.
Other progressive Scottish brands have been innovative in projecting a fresh, modern image of Scotland and capitalising on the growth of sub-sectors such as health and lifestyle.
Nairn’s and Genius, both Edinburgh-based, have put Scotland on the international map in the gluten-free space. Newcomer Pulsetta hopes to become a household name both at home and abroad with its innovative, naturally gluten-free and dairy-free bread products made from milled pulses, which happen to be one of your five a day.
And well-established business Highland Spring, recently confirmed as the UK’s top-selling water brand, is now planning a phase of “optimisation and diversification”.
Family businesses, too, have enjoyed recent export success.
Mackie’s of Scotland, one of our best-known and most successful family brands, has innovated by adding new and diverse product lines to its range. World-renowned for its premium ice-cream, in 2009 Mackie’s branched out into crisps, securing success in the UK and Asia, and last month the brand announced a move into the chocolate market. Mackie’s ambition reveals a confidence in the strength of the brand as a producer of quality Scottish products.
Every one of these progressive Scottish brands imparts a passion for its products and a pride in their Scottish provenance. But it is the ambition and innovation demonstrated which sets them apart and is serving to reshape the image of Scottish brands abroad.
Future for sector
So what is next for the sector in Scotland?
In the medium term, international exposure for Scottish food and drink brands will inevitably attract interest from acquisitive global players. It is no coincidence that when Gruppo Campari sought to add a Scotch whisky to its portfolio, it went for Italy’s number-one seller, Glen Grant. So discussions on succession-planning or exit strategies will be all the more important for Scotland’s food and drink companies.
In the short term, the forthcoming feast of events in 2014 will present a fantastic opportunity to reinforce the image of Scotland as a modern, progressive nation, rich in natural resources. The events of 2014 will provide a platform from which Scottish brands can shine and tell their provenance stories to the world, taking the lead from those progressive Scottish brands which have achieved recent export success.
• Rona Dennison is a senior associate at Burness Paull www.burnesspaull.co.uk