Here’s to another 20 years of food industry growth

David Thomson, CEO, Food and Drink Federation Scotland
David Thomson, CEO, Food and Drink Federation Scotland
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This year is our 20th birthday at Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland. While we are very young in comparison to the UK-based FDF (106 years old and thriving), we have had many successes over the past 20 years to celebrate. There have also been challenges. With the uncertainty and worry that Brexit is causing, it is a good time to think about those we have already faced and survived.

FDF Scotland was born in 1999, as was the Scottish Parliament. As a trade association, our aim is to make sure our members have the support they need to grow and operate in the best business environment possible. This is extremely important ­given the significant economic ­contribution of Scotland’s food and drink ­manufacturers.

FDF Scotland has been there to support and defend our members through many challenges over the last 20 years. Ironically, given the recent Scottish budget deal, the first ­minutes from our board meeting in July 1999 show that business car parking charges were a hot topic! Our meetings have also seen discussions about the Safeway takeover, the rise of internet shopping, and the creation of Food Standards Scotland.

In that time our food and drink industry has grown exponentially. Turnover is now around £14 ­billion and we aim to grow that to £30bn by 2030. Exports have also grown and in 2017 increased by 11 per cent to £6bn. This growth is due to the excellent partnership the industry has with the Scottish Government and we are a proud and active founder member of the Scotland Food & Drink partnership.

There have been many difficult issues where we have supported industry over the years, including 2013 when horse meat was fraudulently found in some food products. FDF and our members worked with Scottish and UK Governments throughout the incident and our members have put in place a wide range of measures to further ensure the integrity of their products and supply chains.

Our industry offers a variety of excellent careers in areas such as ­science, technology and engineering. Despite this, there remains a skills gap. In fact, around 27,000 new job opportunities are forecast over the next 10 years and the majority of these will require highly skilled individuals

To tackle this, in 2010 FDF Scotland set up our skills initiative – A Future in Food – to make educators, ­students, careers influencers and parents aware of the opportunities available. This work is funded by the Scottish Government, through Scotland Food & Drink, and highlights the enormous variety of careers on offer, the skills required by employers and the many progression routes and pathways that exist from school, through further and higher education and apprenticeships.

FDF Scotland works with many partners to support schools and businesses and to develop qualifications that meet the needs of industry. We run awareness raising events, develop resources and have trained more than 300 Food and Drink Ambassadors – inspiring youngsters to consider a career in food and drink.

So what do these 20 years tell us as we look forward to the rest of 2019 and beyond? Our biggest challenge is leaving the EU with no real clarity on how food and drink companies will be affected in key areas like ­trading, market access, food safety and regulation. The onus is on Governments to avoid a crash out Brexit in March, and to ensure support of our vital food and drink industry during the transition to the new set of trading arrangements.

One thing that FDF Scotland ­members can be sure of is that we will be at the heart of the debate, ­making the case for our industry and ­supporting food and drink businesses of all sizes. If you are a food and drink manufacturer and are not a member I encourage you to get in touch to find out how we can help you.

David Thomson, CEO, Food and Drink Federation Scotland.