Food and Drink Federation names SWA boss Karen Betts as CEO

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Betts: 'Rapidly changing times'
Betts: 'Rapidly changing times'

Related tags Training & recruitment Drinks

The Food & Drink Federation (FDF) has appointed Karen Betts - currently chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) - as its new chief executive, replacing Ian Wright.

Wright has announced his intention to step down at the end of 2021 after seven years in the role.

Betts has led the SWA since 2017. A lawyer by background, Karen previously had a two-decade career in the Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service, latterly as Her Majesty's ambassador to Morocco.

“Karen Betts has an outstanding track record of achievement representing both our country, and one of our most important and valuable industries,"​ said FDF president Jon Woods.

'Unprecedented change and opportunity'

"This is a time of unprecedented change and opportunity for the food and drink industry. As we emerge from the challenges of Brexit and COVID-19, Karen will bring great understanding of, and experience in, working closely with governments and some of the world’s biggest consumer goods companies.

"She has spent the last four years speaking for an industry with deep provenance and a range of businesses of all sizes determined that they, too, should be heard."

Betts said: “These are rapidly changing times, with challenges and opportunities for the industry to grasp in everything from addressing climate change, to skills and livelihoods, and healthy diets. I am looking forward to working with the FDF's members, the FDF team, with Government and other organisations as we find the best answers to these questions for all involved.”

SWA chair Scott McCroskie, who is chief executive of distiller Edrington, said of Bett's departure: “After more than four years in post, Karen will leave the association with our heartfelt gratitude.

'Turbulent period'

"She has steered the industry successfully through a turbulent period, critically while punitive tariffs were imposed on Scotch whisky by the US, through the UK’s departure from the EU, and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her leadership has helped the industry emerge in a strong and forward-looking position.

“Karen and her team have also positioned the industry to take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead. Her focus on increasing diversity in our workforce, achieving our net-zero emissions target and growing trade in key global markets will help to secure the industry’s success in years to come.  I am confident that a new chief executive will be able to build on this for the benefit of our sector, at home and around the world."

McCroskie said the SWA had now begun to search for Bett's replacement.

Scotch Whisky Association

Betts has been CEO of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), the representative body for the Scotch whisky industry, since May 2017. Under her leadership, the industry has successfully navigated significant changes to global trade, including the UK's departure from the EU and transatlantic trade wars, as well as challenges in the UK, not least those arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Prior to her role at the SWA, she had a 16-year career in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), fulfilling a variety of roles in London and overseas. These included British ambassador to Morocco and counsellor to the British embassy in Washington, plus roles at the UK's permanent representation to the EU in Brussels and the British embassy in Baghdad.

In London, she served in the Cabinet Office, the Joint Intelligence Organisation and in a range of roles in the FCO.

Before joining the FCO, she worked as a lawyer for Clifford Chance in London and Hong Kong. She studied law at the College of Law in Guildford and history at St. Andrews University.

Karen is an adviser to the UK Government’s Board of Trade, the chair of the Confederation of British Industry's International Trade and Investment Council, a member of the Scottish government's trade board and a trustee of Raleigh International.

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