Exports of Scottish food and drink products have achieved a record-breaking performance to be ahead of pre-pandemic levels.
And major growth throughout the food and drink sector north of the border is anticipated by the end of this decade.
But there is no room for complacency in the industry.
A north-east Business Gateway manager has warned that many firms are still under significant financial strain, with the post-Covid comeback still very much work in progress.
Strong global appetite for authentic taste of Scotland
Scotland’s food and drink exports hit £8 billion in 2022 – nearly £2bn better than the previous year.
The figures demonstrate a strong global appetite for a variety of products from north of the border which, including whisky, seafood and meat.
Food and drink is a vital part of the Scottish economy, as it currently employs more than 120,000 people and generates nearly £15bn in turnover annually.
And huge expansion is forecast for the sector, with turnover of £30bn a year being targeted by 2030.
Products from companies in the north-east are expected to play a big part in this growth, delivering increased sales at home and abroad.
This is thanks to the region’s strong entrepreneurial culture, according to Jamie Hutcheon, Aberdeen city and shire manager for Business Gateway. He added: “One sector where we are really seeing this entrepreneurialism in action is food and drink.
“It is one of the strongest business sectors in the country, so it makes good economic sense for Business Gateway and other relevant partners to do all we can to support it.
Surge of food and drink businesses seeking Business Gateway support
“As we came out of the pandemic, we saw a real boost in the number of inquiries from food and drink firms, and that has remained steady. We’ve received more than 200 inquiries from operators in the food and drink sector looking for our support in the past year.
“In the last 12 months alone, a number of diverse businesses have entered the north-east market – everything from Doric-themed chocolates to tequila chutney.
“We have quality suppliers in this area, with some of the finest fish, beef, lamb, shortbread and whisky in the country – making for a very encouraging place to set up.”
But Mr Hutcheon’s message to firms just now is they cannot afford to rest on their laurels.
He explained: “We’ve come out of the pandemic but many operators, especially small businesses, are feeling the pressure – from financial strains to rent increases and increased energy costs. The Covid-19 bounce-back is still very much work in progress.
“Our role at Business Gateway is to help bridge the gap and create communities of like-minded people. For me, this is where the north-east is particularly flourishing. I’m proud to say there is a very nurturing environment for food and drink companies, due to the region’s long-standing heritage of fine produce and commitment to provenance.
“Aberdonians know what they like when it comes to their food and drink, but where firms need to capitalise on this is to get out there and get in front of people to really tell their story.”
He added: “The pandemic forced us all to readapt how we do business. Online stores, deliveries and virtual communications became second nature.
“However, I believe potential customers hearing at first-hand the hard work a businessperson has put into getting set up or where they source local ingredients from is compelling. In the current climate, with purse strings tightened for consumers, it is one of the more convincing ways to encourage people to shop local.”
Aberdonians know what they like when it comes to their food and drink.”
Online is and will remain fundamental for ventures looking to achieve growth, he said.
He continued: “The digital opportunity opens companies up to the rest of Scotland, the UK and overseas.
“Where Business Gateway supports this is by ensuring firms looking to expand their digital offering have all the necessary tools in place to cope with demand should they need it.
“Business-first is our approach to working with firms so, in the food and drink sector, if we have advisers who have a background in catering, or hospitality, or have previously been involved in food production, we always look to match them with companies in these areas, encouraging in-person meetings to understand the challenges the business is facing.
“The role of our advisers is also to build trust – these are testing times for food and drink operators. Amid staff shortages and the cost-of-doing-business, firms want to feel like they have someone they can rely on to offer them up-to-date and unbiased advice.
“Our Re-ignition programme, which is funded by Aberdeenshire Council, has seen us deliver events with speakers from the hospitality, food, drink and tourism sectors to bring the right people together, build connections and share learnings.
“Tourism is an important part of the mix when it comes to the north-east – it can drive significant footfall, so we are educating businesses on how to target incoming tourists and promote their products or services.”
Strong network of support
Mr Hutcheon went on: “I truly believe the north-east has all the necessary components to help companies thrive.
“These are a strong network of support for businesses, a rich entrepreneurial spirit, quality operators in the country’s key industries and an ideal spot for a quality work-life balance, with the countryside just a stone’s throw from the city centre hub.
“It is down to organisations such as Business Gateway to help foster and maintain that spirit and provide the tools, services and advice needed.”
Spotlight on Business Gateway client Reynolds Corporate and Cocktail
Aberdeenshire-based Reynolds was set up in 2020 by husband-and-wife duo Chris and Lauren Reynolds.
The firm started as an event catering and cocktail service, with Mr and Mrs Reynolds going on to launch cocktail pouches for consumers to enjoy at home in the pandemic.
Over time, interest in the business steadily increased as the couple got back to showcasing their products at local events to establish the brand in the north-east.
Entrepreneurial duo forced to ‘pivot’ their business during pandemic
They now sell their cocktail pouches online and last year opened premises in Kinellar, near Aberdeen, as part of expansion plans.
The venture has received support from Business Gateway throughout its journey, including a focus on the firm’s digital capabilities during the pandemic and beyond.
Mr Reynolds, an ex-forces chef, said: “I joined the Navy at 16. When it was time to move on we came up with the idea for a local catering service. This all went well until the pandemic hit and we had to pivot, like many others, to find new ways to reach our customers.
“The support and guidance from Business Gateway has been brilliant. The team have worked to understand our business and challenges, and guided us through some tough times. We’re enthusiastic about the response we’ve had from the people in the north-east and are looking forward to what’s next for Reynolds Corporate and Cocktail.”