David Thomson: Taste of success for food & drink partners

Scotland's 875 food and drink manufacturing businesses contribute �1.7 billion to Scotland's economy. Picture: Paul Watts
Scotland's 875 food and drink manufacturing businesses contribute �1.7 billion to Scotland's economy. Picture: Paul Watts
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GROWTH is essential to maintain the strength of the industry which should be a top priority, writes David Thomson

Food and drink is a great Scottish success story. Scotland’s food and drink entrepreneurs have a long history of creating quality brands which are admired and enjoyed across the world. Scotland’s 875 food and drink manufacturing businesses are also a fundamental part of our economy: they contribute a staggering £1.7 billion in gross value added to our nation’s wealth and provide 34,000 high quality jobs.

In December I took over the role of chief executive at the Scottish Food and Drink Federation (SFDF). We are the independent voice of food and drink manufacturers in Scotland, and I am very proud to represent such an important industry at this critical time. We are driving Scotland’s economy. For us creating growth is essential to the continuing success of our businesses.

The best and most economical way to do this is through strong partnership between industry and government. Food and drink should continue to be a top economic priority in Scotland – much has been done over the past few years, but there is much more that can and should be done. That is why this month with Archie Gibson (Chair of SFDF and Managing Director of Agrico UK Ltd),

I am delighted to launch Feeding Scotland’s Economy, which sets out our industry’s priorities for the 2016 elections and beyond. These priorities are driving growth for food and drink and the wider economy; working in partnership to make a real difference for Scotland’s people; and ensuring our businesses have the right skills, regulation and advice to succeed. On public health, our industry has a strong track record of working in partnership to tackle key issues and we stand ready to do more, but any initiatives need support and encouragement.

One example of this partnership working is on Scotland’s obesity challenge. This is a multi-faceted issue and there is no easy solution. Food and drink companies are absolutely committed to playing their part. Through the Obesity Action Plan and Supporting Healthy Choices, we have collaborated with others to take a targeted approach to health. SFDF co-chairs the Reformulation Common Interest Group that brings together industry, academics and support agencies to reduce calories in products. The new Scottish Government should support and encourage companies that wish to reformulate their products to do their part to improve the health of Scotland’s people.

On sustainability, our members are dedicated to achieving a more resource-efficient Scotland. The Scottish Industry Advisory Group on Resource Efficiency is an example of where a collaborative approach works well. The group, which brings together SFDF, Zero Waste Scotland and Interface Food & Drink, is made up of more than 20 leading food and drink companies and acts as a forum to identify and prioritise the most pressing sustainability issues. The new Scottish Government should continue to help our manufacturers become the most environmentally conscious in the world.

We also must protect Scotland’s cherished reputation for high-quality, safe food. Food Standards Scotland must be able to effectively support the trusted reputation of Scotland’s food and drink manufacturers. To help this, a rational policy framework should be re-affirmed with food safety, security and resilience, sustainability and authenticity at its heart.

Underpinning our reputation for quality is our constant need for a highly-skilled and innovative workforce ensuring that we are a world class food and drink manufacturing country. At the moment we have serious skills gaps, particularly in engineering, science and food technology. To help address this, SFDF’s Schools Programme and Ambassadors Network are inspiring young people to consider food and drink as a career destination of first choice.

SFDF’s Scottish Government-funded Schools Programme, A Future in Food, facilitates long-term partnerships between schools and local food and drink companies to help deliver the curriculum, using food as a context for learning. Through SFDF’s Food and Drink Ambassadors Network, funded by Skills Development Scotland, almost 250 volunteers are inspiring young people to consider a career in the sector through hosting site visits, running classroom workshops and taking part in career events. Projects like these are playing a vital role in helping to fill the skills gap but continued government funding is needed.

A true partnership between industry and government is essential for the success of our economy, the welfare of our industrious people and the protection of our unique environment. We look forward to working with the new Scottish Government to ensure the continued growth of the vibrant food and drink industry.

• David Thomson, CEO at the Scottish Food and Drink Federation