Scottish food and drink to replace oil as top income earner

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Food and drink is set to make a bigger contribution to the Scottish economy as oil declines
Food and drink is set to make a bigger contribution to the Scottish economy as oil declines

Related tags: United kingdom, Scotland

Scottish food and drink production, on track to hit a turnover of £16.5bn by 2017, will play an increasingly important role as oil revenues fall, according to Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

Head of food and drink at the government economic development agency Elaine Jamieson told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “While some industries such as oil will emerge and mature – and perhaps eventually decline – producing high quality food and drink that consumers recognise and value ensures that Scotland’s food and drink industry will always play a major role in driving the Scottish economy and developing our exports worldwide.”

Newer enterprises, such as salmon farming were making a growing contribution to the Scottish economy. “Slightly older than the North Sea oil industry among new industries, we have salmon farming, which has grown at an astonishing rate to become Scotland’s highest value food export with over 1M salmon meals eaten in the UK each year.”

£550M in growth

Scottish food and drink sector growth up £550M in 2013 on the previous year played to Scotland’s key strengths, said Jamieson. Scotland had a sound science base, a skilled and dedicated workforce, innovation in manufacturing and distribution and initiative in establishing new markets in the UK and overseas. One example was Coast and Glen’s new fishbox, which delivers a selection of fresh, seasonal seafood to subscribers weekly, fortnightly or monthly.

“The value of this industry is felt across the country – in the processing plants and bottling halls of the central belt, the ports and harbours of the north east and the Highlands and Islands, the fertile farmlands of the borders and the south west,”​ said Jamieson.

Overseas sales of whisky – the UK’s largest single food and drink export – while 7.4% down last year compared with 2013 were still valued at £4bn.

‘Tremendous reputation’

Meanwhile, competition in food and drink markets at home and abroad is intensifying, acknowledged the HIE boss. “Go to any of the major trade shows, Anuga, Sial, Seafood Expo Global and you realise that Scotland is very small on the global stage. But we have a tremendous reputation – one that is hard won and requires us to be vigilant in terms of the quality of our offering.”

Further food and drink sector growth will come from developing industry management and leadership capabilities, identifying new markets, innovating products, processes and skills development, according to the HIE.

Strict quality assurance would be vital in maintaining that reputation. Also, while large-scale operators such as Walkers, Baxters and Marine Harvest were widely recognised, many much smaller operations will need help to enter and thrive in new markets, both in the UK and overseas, said Jamieson.

King salmon makes its mark on the Scottish economy

“Slightly older than the North Sea oil industry among new industries, we have salmon farming, which has grown at an astonishing rate to become Scotland’s highest value food export with over 1M salmon meals eaten in the UK each year.”

  • Elaine Jamieson, Highlands and Islands Enterprise

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