Whether it’s the rich caramel tones of a single malt or the buttery texture of a shortbread round, Scotland has a rich history of high-quality food and drink. Scotland’s rich larder isn’t just a source of immense national pride though – food and drink mean big business too.
The industry is worth £14bn to the nation’s economy each year and trade body Scotland Food & Drink has set an ambitious target of raising that total to £16.5bn by 2017. Exports of food and drink already bring in £5.1bn to our shores each year and a target of £7.1bn has been set for 2017.
Scottish produce is currently exported to 100 countries, with connoisseurs from as far afield as America and Australia buying £3.95bn of Scotch whisky and £600m of salmon and seafood. Yet the figures only tell half the story. The food and drink industry supports jobs in some of Scotland’s most remote areas. In total, the industry supports 360,000 jobs, many of them in rural locations.
In order to hit those financial targets, producers don’t just need to sell their goods overseas but they also need to capitalise on opportunities in the home market. That’s why the 2015 Year of Food & Drink has been so important to the economy, helping to introduce visitors and locals to Scotland’s bountiful produce and build on the success of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, when thousands of tourists enjoyed a taste of what the nation had to offer.
“The Year of Food & Drink has been a great success, helping to raise the profile of Scotland’s outstanding natural larder on the world stage through extensive events, marketing and public relations (PR) activity,” explained Malcolm Roughead, chief executive at national tourism agency VisitScotland. “Scotland’s tourism industry – from cafes and restaurants to B&Bs and hotels – has been eager to get involved, demonstrated by the fact that nearly 1,000 businesses are accredited under VisitScotland’s Taste Our Best scheme – something that recognises and celebrates locally-sourced produce.
Each month, a different theme has been used to promote Scotland’s food and drink. In January ‘Traditional Foods’ were rolled out, including New Year’s steak pies and Burns’ Night’s haggis, neaps and tatties, while February brought oysters, seafood, steak, and chocolates to celebrate ‘The Food of Love’ for St Valentine’s Day. ‘Brewing and Distilling’ were marked in March, with April trumpeting ‘Award-Winning Food’ and May toasting ‘Whisky Month’. June saw the Royal Highland Show and the end of the school year being used to explore ‘The Future of Food’ and led into the start of the pick-your-own season in July to promote ‘Summer Berries and Fruits’.
‘Delicious Dairy’ was the order of the day in August, while September marked the ‘Celebration’ theme for Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight. Fishing, seafood and salmon took centre stage in October for ‘Sustainable Shores’, with a ‘Hearty and Heart-Warming’ November featuring meat, vegetables and grains in broths and stews.
The ‘Grand Finale’ came in December, with premium goods such as cheeses, pâté and relishes being promoted in the run-up to Christmas and Hogmanay. There were certainly no excuses when it came to ideas for festive treats this year. James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, added: “Across the entire country, we have been using these themes to celebrate Scotland’s phenomenal larder in countless different ways.
As well as engaging with consumers, food and drink manufacturers and distributors have also been busy strengthening their links with the retailers and food service companies throughout the world that will help to grow the industry.
In October, the second Showcasing Scotland event took place at Gleneagles Hotel, with 150 buyers from the UK and overseas holding more than 1,200 meetings with around 100 Scottish producers over the course of three days.
The industry isn’t without its challenges – the introduction of the national living wage will force many companies to reconsider the pay they offer their workers. Margins have always been tight among growers and producers, with auto-enrolment pensions and fluctuations in foreign currencies adding to concerns.
Yet the size of the prize is worth the risk. Not only do Scotland’s food and drink producers have the chance to grow their industry but they also have the added opportunity to improve the health of the nation, educating the next generation of school pupils about the benefits of eating healthily and taking exercise so that they can enjoy the occasional sweet or savoury treat.
The turnover of the industry has already increased from £10bn in 2008 to £14bn this year, putting companies on target to hit their £16.5bn aim in 2017. With the successful Year of Food & Drink tucked under their belts, few would bet against Scotland’s growers and manufacturers from going on to smash their target.