Brexit is the biggest challenge ever faced by our food and drink industry, says Stephen Jardine.
It’s time for our annual review of the year in food and drink, served with a side order of what the next 12 months may bring.
If 2018 was defined by anything it was not what we all expected. This time last year Brexit looked the most important thing on the table. With 15 months to run until Britain left the European Union, everything was still to play for, with jobs and exports depending on it. Fast forward to today and depressingly little progress has been made – we’ll get back to that later.
If this year failed to deliver certainty on Brexit, it did produce a major change in what we eat – 2018 was undoubtedly the year of the vegan. From getting food writers sacked to altering supermarket shelves, veganism emerged from the carcass of clean eating to become the defining food force this year. Supermarkets report a 20 per cent rise in sales of vegan food since January and to reflect that they are making way for more and more meat-free products on their shelves.
Food fads come and go but the increase in veganism and vegetarianism feels different. Spearheaded by young consumers, it reflects concern about the environment and sustainability and increasing awareness of factory farming and industrial production. While welfare standards here are among the best in the world, coming alongside Brexit the huge expansion in vegan eating will be another headache for the economically important meat sector in Scotland.
This time last year I predicted a turbulent time ahead for the restaurant trade and so it proved to be. The mass opening in Edinburgh of national chain restaurants was always going to be a challenge for local independent operators and the damage was soon done. Before the Hogmanay Black Bun was finished, leading restaurateur Dave Ramsden was warning of a brutal year ahead. By the autumn his much-admired eatery, The Dogs, had closed. Others have followed in his footsteps.
At least some of the blame lies with the way Edinburgh City Council has approached the provision of food and drink in the city centre. From the creation of a restaurant zone in St Andrew Square to the endless parade of pop-up bars and festivals flogging food in the streets, no thought has been given to the consequences for established businesses or as to what the people of Edinburgh want. I’ve written about this repeatedly across the year and the subject provokes more reader reaction than anything else. That alone should be food for thought for a council keen on public consultation – except when it tells them something they won’t want to hear.
And so to Brexit. With just three months to go it represents the biggest challenge Scotland’s food and drink sector has ever faced. By now no politician can be unaware of the concerns raised by farmers, fishermen, food producers and the drink industry. Everything rests on the next 12 weeks.
As consumers, we can help. The message for 2019 must be, buy Scottish and support our local producers. It won’t change Brexit but it will help businesses weather the storm and, offer us some enjoyment through these turbulent times. So eat and drink Scottish… and have a very happy New Year.