Despite the UK’s world leading position in food and drink innovation, science, technology and food safety – particularly around short shelf-life foods – UK politicians did not recognise the contribution the sector made to the nation’s wealth and job creation, he claimed.
“I am always struck by how actively, aggressively and emotionally the Irish food industry is regulated and promoted in an international context, in marked contrast to how the UK food industry is,” the chief executive of the Irish-owned convenience food manufacturer told an audience of industry professionals last month.
Giving the Campden BRI 2016 annual lecture, Coveney said: “I sometimes really do despair and am disappointed by the absence of recognition of the UK food industry by any objective set of criteria.
I do think the industry suffers by the absence of very strong championship from government.”
‘The industry suffers’
He attributed this to a mistaken belief that the sector was largely domestic rather than international.
He reported that Greencore’s dealings with government had mainly been around rural affairs issues rather than economic growth. But there was great potential for growth both at home and abroad, he argued.
“There is an unfortunate ownership construct in that there are actually very few domestic public company champions of the food industry,” he added.
“The industry largely divides into big privately owned, very well run – somewhat secretive –businesses in terms of their public profile and they are largely international.”
‘Difficult to replicate overseas’
He added: “There is a perception, therefore – most particularly at the retail end of the market – that the food industry is largely domestic, and difficult to replicate overseas, but I don’t actually buy that.”
Greencore currently turns over £1.4bn and employs 12,000 people at 50 locations in the UK, Ireland and in the US.
It has 24 manufacturing plants in these three countries. The latest opened in Seattle in the US last month.
“We hope to pass £1.5bn in revenue by the end of this year. That’s a trebling of our revenue in the past five years,” said Coveney.
“Twenty percent of our revenue comes from products that are less than five years old. 50% of our revenue comes from products that are less than one year.”
Meanwhile, here's what the Food and Drink Federation thought should be topping the new Prime Minister Theresa May’s to-do list.