Last Friday I attended the RBS Food and Drink Conference in Edinburgh, an all-day event focussed on one of Scotland’s core industry sectors. With representatives from entrepreneurial start-ups, seeking their first investors to more established SMEs, household names and global leaders, it was fantastic to hear about their organisations, how their businesses were facing the current market challenges and planning for the future.
Here’s a quick round-up of just some of the different types of companies I heard from on the day:
It was great to see companies like Eyeball Brewing Ltd, a new microbrewery from Cockenzie producing vegan friendly beers. James Dempsey, launched his business in 2016 with the mission to “do something different with lager” and is already achieving success, securing a distribution deal with Aldi. It was great chatting with James and hearing about his ambitions for the company. I’ll definitely need to give his products a go, for research purposes of course!
Beehive Brae is a “Meadery and Brewery with a difference”, producing their mead and beer “for the Betterment of Bees” and along with their sister company Origin Honey use only the finest British honey from their sustainably managed, ethical beehives. Working with companies big and small who adopt hives across the UK, they have already helped to protect and preserve 10 million honeybees including, as it turns out, a number of bees my colleague Laura adopted as a birthday gift earlier this year and a hive hosted by another of our clients, Highland Spring, at their Auchterarder site.
For many Scots, the name Bon Accord brings back memories of crates of their iconic glass
bottles delivered to doorsteps and collected for recycling. After a 16 year break, they’re back! Still a family business, they have reinvented themselves for today’s market or as they put it they’ve “got a new approach to pop”.
They have new soft drinks, using 100% natural sweeteners such as honey, coconut nectar and fruit juice with flavours such as Rhubarb (apparently perfect with Prosecco), Ginger Beer, Cloudy Lemonade and a new Tonic Water targeting today’s very on-trend gin market!
Tunnock’s may still be a family run bakery but they are also an iconic Scottish brand with their famous red and white logo appearing on everything from brollies and cushions to Rubik’s cubes (yes, we didn’t know that one either!). As one of the key speakers for the day, it was genuinely interesting to hear about their journey and how after 127 years, they are still so popular they “can’t get enough product out the door”!
The global players:
Headquartered in Scotland, 70% of Edrington’s staff are currently based overseas. They have grown through acquisition with their routes tracing back to Highland Distillers, established in 1887. Today they are still firmly focussed on development both internationally and at home as they look to reopen two distilleries in the Scottish Highlands.
Throughout the day we heard from these and other speakers including well-known names such as Albert Bartlet and those seeking investment such as Liver Health, a company looking to produce a specialist coffee drink designed to help alleviate liver problems.
Unsurprisingly, the two main areas of concern were Brexit and the skills shortage.
James Withers, CEO of Scotland Food and Drink, spoke positively despite these challenges and
shared his hopes for the future of the industry with ambitions to see the sector double in size and become the number one export market for Scotland. He talked passionately about his belief that Scottish producers would continue to benefit from focussing on high-quality products made locally as their USP, that export markets could provide new opportunities and that as an industry we must encourage and create opportunities for school leavers in food production.
For me, the day was a great reminder of the quality, diversity and innovation of Scotland’s food and drink producers and that despite the current uncertainty and challenges ahead, these companies are ambitious and determined to continue to create unique, high-quality products, valued locally and sought after internationally. These are some of the reasons I enjoy working in this industry sector and I look forward to seeing what lies ahead for all of our companies and how their stories continue to unfold.
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