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Food and Drink in Scotland: Ambition 2030

6 Sep 2018
Alasdair Murray

Food and Drink in Scotland

A decade ago, the Food and Drink sector had a low profile in the Scottish economy with hardly any growth in the industry. Today, it is one of Scotland’s best performing domestic and fastest growing export sectors. Latest figures from the Scottish Government show that overseas exports were worth approximately £6bn last year - an increase of almost £570 million from 2016.

As exports and sales at home grow rapidly, Scotland has also emerged a leader in terms of manufacturing - the sector is growing at twice the rate of the UK average.

The reason behind this unbridled growth is the collaboration between various organisations and professionals who operate in the food and drink sector and who have, time and again, come up with initiatives to ensure the present and future development of the industry.

The industry stakeholders regularly meet and discuss the pressing issues. Such a meeting  took place at the seventh Scotsman Food and Drink Conference held on 4th September 2018 at the EICC. The event aimed to bring together key areas of Scotland’s food and drink sector, including premium producers of meat, fish and whisky, and innovative SMEs to discuss ways to ensure the continuing smooth functioning of the £15 billion industry post-Brexit. Discussion revolved around access to labour and markets after Brexit and the ability of small and medium sized enterprises to trade beyond Europe.

Another example is the ongoing Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight - a platform to highlight the diversity within the industry and establishing it as a sector that offers fantastic career prospects to young people. Building upon the Scottish Government’s Year of Young People, this year’s campaign, entitled #ScotFoodGoals, is focused on the future of the sector. The campaign highlights the talented young people in the industry and the wealth of career opportunities available in this sector. #ScotFoodGoals seeks to celebrate the young entrepreneurs, chefs, producers and farmers, and those working in retail and hospitality, highlighting the fact that everyone has a part to play in ensuring its continued survival and growth. A number of young people have also been hired as the Food and Drink Fortnight Ambassadors to promote the promising scope of a career in food and drink.

James Withers, Chief Executive at Scotland Food and Drink, said at the official launch of the event;

“By 2030 we want to have doubled the value of Scotland’s food and drink industry. While this is a challenge, we believe it’s achievable, especially with more young people choosing careers in food and drink.”

Ambition 2030

This brings us to ‘Ambition 2030’ - a cross sector growth strategy developed by the Scotland Food and Drink Partnership, an industry-led group of the sector’s main organisations, alongside the Scottish Government.

It aims to position Scotland as one of the best places in the world to run a food and drink business and to attract and retain investment from home and abroad. The goal is to double the turnover in farming, fishing, food and drink to £30 billion by 2030.

In order to achieve its vision, the strategy focuses on 3 key areas; people and skills, supply chain and innovation. The strategy proposes the following ideas for action in regard to moving forward with people and skills;

  • Producing a coherent and joined-up education programme
  • Development of a new national industry recruitment campaign
  • Creating a nationwide mentoring programme

According to the BDO Food and Drink Report 2018, 54% companies experienced difficulties in recruiting the people and skills they desired. Among companies struggling to find staff, 23% reported a shortage of production related technical skills and 14% found it difficult to recruit engineers. At Eden Scott we are seeing an increase in Production Engineer roles, but clearly there is a skills shortage in these areas.

Ambition 2030 lays emphasis on engaging with schools, colleges, further and higher education establishments, universities, training providers, skills bodies and employers to motivate young people to consider a career in food and drink.

 The Food and Drink Skills Ambassador Network by FDF Scotland is a step in this direction as it consists of volunteers representing a wide variety of careers - such as farmers, microbiologists, project engineers, and food scientists - inspiring the next generation to consider an exciting career in the food and drink industry. They also help young people gain a better understanding of how qualifications in STEM subjects can be applied across the food chain, which is vital in developing a positive perception of the industry as an attractive employment option.

After facing a sharp decline in applications, many food processing and manufacturing companies have adopted apprentice strategies to recruit new talent through initiatives such as work experience, industrial placements and graduate programmes.

Recruitment should not be limited to school leavers and graduates. People from other sectors with relevant skills should also be attracted to consider a career in food and drink industry as their skills can add considerable value. As we discussed in our previous article; ‘The challenges facing food manufacturing companies’, more and more engineers from other sectors are being recruited to the food and drink manufacturing sector due to a shortage of the transferable skills,. Experienced engineers are now choosing the food and drink sector as a career of choice due to improved job security, but also because of the advancements in automation technology. 

Ambition 2030 also points out that retention of current employees is as important as attracting new employees. This should be done by rewarding them, investing in them, and by being responsible employers; thus making Food and Drink one of the best industries to work in.

In terms of skills, automation has emerged as a growth area in the food and drink industry as industry-wide companies are increasingly embracing automation to deliver new levels of productivity and supply-chain efficiency. According to the BDO Food and Drink survey, 54% of respondents said their companies were increasing levels of investment in automation. Even though the impact of automation on jobs is often the subject of much debate, there is no denying that post-Brexit if there is a labour shortage resulting in upward cost pressure for food and drink manufacturers - automation could be a key factor in driving down costs. Moving forward, it is important that companies keep up with new technologies and train/re-train their employees accordingly to extract the best skills for their operations.


Although initiatives and strategies such as Ambition 2030 are new in this industry, they are most definitely a step in the right direction. To get the most out of these initiatives there is a need to build further collaboration across the industry and the public sector to capitalize on the opportunities available. Food and Drink is the largest manufacturing sector in Scotland with very high growth potential that offers generous salary and benefits. The only thing it needs is more people, and to do that it must become a sought-after and desirable career destination.


Alasdair Murray
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