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In a speech at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) virtual conference in February, Boris Johnson spoke of his desire for consumers to “buy more of our unparalleled British produce at home” as well as having food and drink producers “proudly selling more around the world”.
The prime minister is not the only one championing British produce both at home and abroad. New schemes to boost food and drink exports have emerged in the shadow of Brexit, while initiatives are encouraging local shopping closer to home, too, by shouting about the quality of British food and drink.
Scotland Food & Drink recently unveiled a new campaign and website, onthetable.scot, to celebrate Scottish produce and educate consumers about how their shopping habits can directly benefit the Scottish food and drink industry.
Research conducted by the group revealed an increase in people who have bought locally sourced food during the pandemic, with 14% of red meat buyers saying they had bought more local red meat since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and 17% of adults saying they bought more locally grown and sourced vegetables. But despite this, Scotland Food & Drink said many still aren’t aware of the huge range of Scottish produce available at local retailers, farmers’ markets and online.
“Scotland’s food and drink sector is underpinned by farmers, fishermen and food and drink producers with a passion for what they are producing matched by their talent and ambition,” said James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink. “This is a fantastic opportunity for them to have their hard work and passion seen by consumers. Our industry has an amazing story to tell and this our chance to tell it.”
The past 12 months have been a struggle for many producers across the country. “Brexit – not to mention Covid – has played havoc with artisan food producers in Scotland,” Wendy Barrie, founder of the Scottish Food Guide, told Speciality Food. “With the restaurant trade in a state of flux for a year now, never was it more important to have several strings to your bow, one of which was Europe. Many of our members exported, and indeed not only to mainland Europe – Northern Ireland is now an issue too.”
With exports facing challenges, championing Scottish produce locally has become even more important, and Wendy said that independent fine food retailers play a vital role as one of the key networks for Scottish produce to reach customers. She aims to do the same with the Scottish Food Guide. “In this world dominated by large manufacturers, supermarkets and industrialised food production, I felt it was time to remind consumers of the differentiation – that not all food is the same and quality, and provenance brings so much to the table in terms of health and value for money, environment and rural economy, supporting independent, high-quality businesses.”
New campaigns are also looking to champion British heritage beyond the country’s borders. In Wales, Food Innovation Wales created the Welsh Food and Drink Directory to promote food and drink manufacturers’ products to buyers both in the UK and abroad by raising awareness of Welsh products.
Listings in the online directory are free, and more than 600 companies have already signed up. Professor David Lloyd, director of Food Innovation Wales and ZERO2FIVE Food Industry Centre at Cardiff Met University, said showcasing Welsh products to “as far-reaching an audience as possible” was important in light of Brexit and the growth of e-commerce.
“The directory helps raise the profile of innovative Welsh food and drink products both locally, nationally and internationally,” he said.
Elsewhere, Liz Truss, secretary of state for international trade, announced a partnership approach with a new export campaign. Speaking at the NFU Live Conference, she said, “Our farmers need access to new markets around the world. We know that exporting supports higher pay and more productive jobs, but at the moment only one in five of our food manufacturers export.
“We want to unleash the potential of many more businesses, which is why we are today announcing the “Open Doors” export campaign for British food and drink.” The government will work with the NFU, AHDB and Food and Drink Federation to deliver tailored support for farmers and food producers, such as masterclasses and mentoring.
Although the past year has brought huge challenges for the food and drink sector, with Brexit and Covid-19, support for British farmers and food retailers is at an all-time high. By championing local produce, retailers have an opportunity to give producers a boost when they need it most.