Sustainability – Scotland’s Route to Success

Having sponsored the Scotland Food & Drink Leadership dinners for two years from Orkney to the Borders and many places in between, it has been very interesting to hear the views and opinions of Scotland’s industry experts. The people who put their heart and soul into growing, breeding, cultivating, brewing, distilling or simply making fantastic products. They have a passion for their work unrivalled in most other sectors – although the gaming geeks might be on a similar level!

The key messages we hear time and time again are; more collaboration; more Government support into rural industries; better focus on education to encourage people to consider the industry as a career; continued innovation; more access to export markets; great infrastructure support.

These are all valid. I would suggest, very carefully, that much of this is already being achieved, and given that the industry is worth c£15b to the economy it is therefore not insignificant. So what about new options?

The consumer is changing. We used to think Angel Delight was a luxury and the lager we drank in the 80s is unlikely to be found in your local pub. Innocent was one of the early entrants into the healthy juice market in the 90s and is still enjoying great success. Genius in the gluten free market saw a huge chance to cater for a growing audience and has done an amazing job. Healthy eating is increasingly important and provenance and quality rate highly – but what rates highest?

At a recent dinner in Inveraray, it was suggested that Scotland should look to become the leaders on sustainability, particularly in the areas of packaging and production.  There is a huge focus world-wide on tackling the costs of single use plastic, not only to the environment, but also to the economy.  In its New Plastics Economy report, the Ellen McAurthur Foundation states that currently 95% of plastic packaging material value, (USD 80–120 billion annually), is lost to the global economy after a short first use, and only 14% is being recycled.

The report recommends, amongst other solutions, the adoption of compostable food packaging, an area in which Edinburgh-based company Vegware  is leading the way.  This is of huge appeal to the audience of today, and there is evidence that supporting social and environmental issues has a positive impact on customers, with a US CSR study suggesting that 68% of millennials bought a product with a social or environmental benefit in the past 12 months, 87% would buy a product with a social and environmental benefit if given the opportunity, and 92% will be more likely to trust a company that supports social or environmental issues.

The younger consumer puts many things ahead of price and will shop in accordance with their ethics, and if you can get them on board early then they will stay. Much of this conscientious thinking may have been driven by the wonderful Sir David Attenborough, who we would certainly not describe as a youth, but his legacy is here to stay. Thank goodness.

I love this idea, and both Scotland Food and Drink and Scottish Enterprise are supporting businesses in this area with their Make Innovation Happen service.  Working with the scientists, researchers and production gurus in the biotech, renewable energy and waste management industry we can become the global icon on sustainable food production, packaging, distribution and waste management. What are we waiting for?


Ben Walker is Head of Food & Drink Practice at Livingston James.

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