Stephen Jardine: Uncertainty will see us turn to comfort food

The outcome of the alleged food poisoning dispute between the Errington Cheese Company and the Food Standards Scotland could have major implications for small scale producers. Picture: Neil Hanna
The outcome of the alleged food poisoning dispute between the Errington Cheese Company and the Food Standards Scotland could have major implications for small scale producers. Picture: Neil Hanna
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In challenging times, change is on the horizon for the food and drink industry, says Stephen Jardine

As is traditional, it’s time for our annual food and drink review of the year served up with some thoughts about what 2017 might bring.

It was another bumper year for the food and drink sector in Scotland with turnover well on course to meet the 2017 industry target of £16.5 billion. The annual Bank of Scotland industry survey showed the majority of Scottish food and drink businesses are optimistic about their future prospects with many looking to expand and recruit. So far the Brexit vote has failed to dent that optimism but there are real concerns about what the decision will mean for the size and shape of Scottish farming in the future.

Looking ahead, 2017 promises to be an even bigger year. In March Scotland Food and Drink will unveil the industry roadmap to 2030 setting out future targets and how they will be met. Around the same time the Prime Minister will trigger Article 50 and Brexit negotiations will begin in earnest with Scottish farmers and fishermen eagerly monitoring developments and what they will bring.

Speculation that the Ivy group of restaurants may be looking to open in Edinburgh could turn out to be nothing more than that but following the arrival of Cote, Wahaca and Dishoom this year, more will come next year. Once one London operator makes the move into a city, others always follow. However they come with a health warning for existing local restaurateurs.

Chains find it easier to survive the slow early months of the year as they have the scale to weather the quiet times. With hundreds of new restaurant covers in Edinburgh this year, there may be a few casualties as supply adjusts to fit demand.

In terms of what is on the plate, predictions are easy to get wrong but here goes anyway. I suspect clean eating has had it’s moment.

In times of Brexit and Trump uncertainty, consumers tend to choose comfort food so if I was looking to invest in food right now, it would be in custard rather than quinoa.

When it comes to booze, the artisan gin boom is now near peak so expect to see consolidation in the market as the big brands snap up the small players. That is also likely to stimulate other start up with the emphasis now switching from gin to vodka, rum and even artisan brandies.

For artisan food producers, all eyes are on the Errington Cheese Company which is still at loggerheads with Food Standards Scotland over what actually caused a food poisoning scare this year. The eventual outcome could have major implications for small scale producers who don’t and won’t produce industrial food.

For the major food retailers, change may be coming. The supermarkets had grown too big and too greedy but they’ve now had their wings severely clipped and early indications suggest the steady growth of the discounter brands is now running out of steam. Morrisons, Asda and Tesco all have new teams in charge and dramatic turnaround strategies could bring first fruit in the next 12 months.

No look back at the end of a year like this is complete without a mention of those we have loved and lost and the world of food and drink is no exception. June brought the tragic news of the death of Gleneagles brilliant Executive Chef Alan Gibb, aged just 48. This being 2016, it wasn’t over yet.

Last month AA Gill announced he had cancer. Within weeks he was dead and we’d lost our greatest food and drink writer, a man who hailed Scotch Pies for their “lifelong ability to be simultaneously welcoming and disappointing”.

Many people will be glad to see the back of this particular year so eat well, drink well and very best wishes for a happy, healthy and well fed 2017.