Charting a Course for Responsible Growth

A Think Piece Series by Scotland Food & Drink. Article One.

Scotland Food & Drink news
Published: 04/07/2024

By Iain Baxter, Chief Executive, Scotland Food & Drink

This is the first in a series intended to spark debate about key issues impacting Scotland’s food and drink landscape. We’re kicking off by exploring a concept embedded in our strategic plans: “responsible growth”. 

Looking forward, cautiously 

With the covid pandemic firmly in the rear-view mirror,  inflation stabilising, and a potential new-look to the UK Government, Scotland may be at a turning point economically. Industry analysis from FDF Scotland demonstrates that business confidence is beginning to trend in a more positive direction, confirming the anecdotal view that businesses in our sector are beginning to sense opportunities on the horizon.  

While we have work to do to ensure conditions are ideal for businesses to flourish, growth is certainly possible. But this growth must be harnessed responsibly, and that’s our focus here. 

Being responsible 

Often referred to as the triple bottom line, business responsibility includes profit, society, and the environment. Looking across the Scottish food and drink system it is clear how interconnected these are. Conflicts can arise when objectives compete, such as the tension between growing exports and lowering carbon emissions. These tensions lie at the heart of the challenge. As an industry leadership body, we at Scotland Food and Drink wrestle with these complex yet critical concerns and welcome thoughts on ways to act on key areas topics. 

Providing quality jobs 

With many labour-intensive businesses, growth in Scotland's food and drink sector is closely aligned to job creation, which remains critical to prosperity and wellbeing across our communities; particularly in rural areas. 

Each job created or retained represents a step towards a person’s individual wellbeing, a more profitable business, a more robust industry, more broadly developed skills across the country, and a stronger economy. 

Of course, not all jobs are equal, and automation is playing an increasing role as we strive towards international competitiveness by addressing stagnating productivity, laying bare another tension. As an industry we must recognise that responsibility means providing quality jobs, with appropriate reward and recognition. 

No business is an island. We operate as a network, and success depends cooperation. Recruiting talented people is challenging, and businesses need help to find people, including through UK immigration policies, collectively planning around skills, and measures to reverse rural population decline. 

Protecting the environment 

Environmental considerations are clearly integral to responsible growth. As this trend continues, ensuring compliance with environmental standards and obtaining the necessary certifications will become essential components of the brand and product strategy for any food or drink business. 

 It is essential, as we navigate the climate crisis and work towards the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership’s Net Zero Commitment by 2045, that all businesses seek to reduce their impact by adopting sustainable practices, reducing waste, conserving natural resources, and making all possible efforts to minimise emissions. We must also ensure customers are aware of the substantial efforts we are making, to build trust. 

Businesses depend on their surrounding infrastructure. The energy grid and transport networks require investment at a government level, both in Scotland and the UK, if we are to unlock sustainability. How we do this most effectively is of course the ‘exam question’.  

The importance of a Net Zero grid 

Food and drink production is often energy intensive. As any cook knows, transforming raw ingredients into delicious dishes requires a range of high energy processes – whether baking, boiling, chilling, or freezing. Delivering a Net Zero electricity grid will help us become a truly sustainable industry, even as we grow. It is positive that energy is no longer the biggest source of emissions in Scotland. Since 1990, emissions from energy have reduced by 78%. 

Enhancing the local economy 

Consuming more local food and drink will deliver an economic multiplier effect by retaining value in domestic supply chains. As well as keeping more of the value here, bringing producers and customers together also builds transparency and trust. Every business beyond the farm gate, whether processing, manufacturing, retailing, wholesaling, catering in schools or hospitals, the smallest café or the largest hotel, can take more responsibility for choosing Scottish.  

Tourism plays a major role in showcasing our produce and attracting culinary visitors. Food tourism also enhances the global reputation of our food and drink. This, in turn, opens new markets and opportunities, and is rightly a key focus area where we believe we could do more. 

The elephant in the room is that choosing local can come at a premium, due to our high standards and generally lower economies of scale. We must justify that by working together to communicate our values, boost demand, build resilience, and enabling people in Scotland to access and afford local food as part of becoming a Good Food Nation. 

The Role of Government 

We want to create a sustainable and robust industry. Food and drink are essential parts of our society, and a core component of identity, culture and heritage which forms part of our export story. But it must be built on a safe and secure supply chain which delivers prosperity to communities, reduces our impacts, and continues to supply world leading food and drink to customers in Scotland and around the world. 

Regulations help ensure we move towards these goals. By working together with both the Scottish and UK Governments, we hope to use all the policy levers available to boost demand domestically and internationally; increase investment in local infrastructure; upgrade transport networks; enhance digital connectivity; avoid lowering standards from trade deals; focus on “better regulation” principles; decarbonise the energy grid, and much more.  

Towards a Definition 

We believe a shared purpose can help us achieve ‘value through values’ and bring together all those within – and who interact with – our incredible food and drink industry, right along the supply chain. It matters how we use our land and seas; which ingredients we produce and use; how we process, transport, store, and manufacture; how we market and promote; how we look after those working for us, our suppliers, and customers. It also matters that we deliver prosperity for businesses, their workers, and communities.  

By understanding all of those factors and acting collaboratively, we can achieve our definition of responsible growth: 

“Responsible growth means seeking to generate profits for all those who produce, make, and sell food and drink from Scotland where they also make a meaningful and measurable effort towards our environmental and social goals. Food and drink from Scotland must not come at the expense of people, nature, or the climate and we all have a role to play in securing a brighter future for the industry, and for Scotland.” 

Get the latest direct to your inbox

Sign-up to our newsletter to receive updates and latest news.

Newsletter sign up