The First Scotland Food & Drink Leadership Dinner – What Did We Learn?

Ben Walker, Head of Consumer and Agribusiness at Livingston James, discusses the views and opinions from the first Scotland Food & Drink Leadership dinner in Aberdeen.

There was an excellent attendance at the first in this series of eight dinners with over 50 business owners and leaders, all with a genuine interest in the growth of the sector as a whole and covering farming, fishing, food and drink.

Two main questions were addressed during the evening. The first focused on provenance and authenticity and looked at how important these are to Scottish produce. There was a lively discussion reviewing all elements including ‘what makes a product Scottish’. For some products, the ingredients may come from overseas; the catch may be from international waters; the breeding stock may have arrived from beyond these shores, making the question less straightforward than you might think.

The fundamental agreement was that ‘Scottish’ meant the production or processing of the goods was done in Scotland, utilising the natural resources available on our doorstep.  Protecting this provenance is important, and the excellent work of the SWA in international markets was acknowledged. It was recognised that premium status is of inherent value not least because there will be a limit to the production capacity and therefore targeting a high value consumer makes more sense.

There was also some lively discussion around the impact on brands from cheap counterfeit products.  It was conceded that purchasing a substandard ‘fake’ product would demean the aspiration to purchase the real thing, but it was also acknowledged that the presence of fakes in the fashion sector hasn’t dented the profits of the global fashion houses. However, it was agreed that protecting brands by policing the creation of counterfeit products was a priority.

The second question was around how we improve the availability of local products in Scotland. Food tourism is an increasingly important part of every visitors experience yet it was agreed that we still lack the level of customer service that consumers expect, especially when paying good money for high quality products.

Scotland’s larder is amazing, surrounded by wonderful countryside and excellent visitor experiences yet still there is not enough emphasis on ‘source local’ and ‘eat local’. It was agreed that marketing needs to start with the young and work through the whole food chain, ensuring that excellent produce becomes the best consumable product.  Availability through multiple retailers, markets, delicatessens, hotels and restaurants needs to more commonplace, emphasising the quality of the products on our doorstep.

An interesting fact was the difficulty in finding local Scottish chefs. There is a perception that there is a lack of interest in entering the industry and therefore not the talent locally that we want supporting the wider community. There was a feeling that well trained chefs, even those who may choose to move abroad, will still be supporters of the provenance of Scottish product. A home grown army of marketers travelling the globe, promoting into the very markets we want to develop.

It is clear that there are many reasons to be cheerful about the state of the industry and a great deal of positivity about the years ahead, but can we drop our guard – no. From my perspective, if the next seven Leadership Dinners are as productive as this one then Scotland Food & Drink will have some very valuable information to help them develop an ongoing strategy for growth.

To find out more, or to discuss how Livingston James could benefit your food and drink business, please call 0131 220 2209 or email on [email protected].

Livingston James is an executive search and selection business that exists to match professional expertise to business need.  We leave behind the generalist approach, instead taking the time to understand what your business needs to achieve success and using our industry knowledge and experience in order to get you there.

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