North and north-east businesses feature heavily in the first cohort of The Academy, a new training scheme to help Scottish food and drink producers achieve growth.
A total of 38 businesses across the country, representing a sector that has been among the hardest hit by the double impact of Covid-19 and Brexit, are taking part in the initiative.
Open to food and drink enterprises of all sizes and ambition, The Academy, is a series of programmes delivered by industry leadership group Scotland Food & Drink (SFD) and training experts Levercliff Associates.
Whilst we don’t know what the future might hold, food and drink will undoubtedly continue to be a key export and economic contributor for Scotland.”
Lucy Husband, Scotland Food & Drink
Businesses are being supported to sell themselves, build their brands, thrive and compete in highly competitive retail and foodservice markets.
The three training programmes – Seeding Growth, Accelerating Growth and Commercial Excellence – support companies at various stages in their development.
They are the result of the first major investment from SFD’s £5 million recovery plan for the industry.
Backed by the Scottish Government, the strategy will run for two and a half years and aims to support more than 200 businesses.
Four Aberdeen city and shire food and drink ventures are kick-starting their growth journey by joining the Seeding Growth programme, which is aimed at companies whose primary focus is maximising their local markets and starting to consider opportunities in the broader Scottish marketplace.
Portsoy seafood producer Gourmet’s Choice and Middleton of Rora Dairy Produce, near Peterhead, are upskilling on the Accelerating Growth programme, which is aimed at established businesses already supplying large customers in Scotland and looking to advance in the wider UK market.
Alba Seafood, based in Kilmore, near Oban, and Wild Thyme Spirits, of Colonsay, are taking part in the Seeding Growth programme, whose inaugural participants also include a Moray business – Avva Scottish Gin, of Elgin.
Two other Moray-based ventures – Roehill Springs Distillery, near Keith, and Speyside Enterprises, in Buckie, are on the Accelerating Growth programme.
SFD market development and business engagement director Lucy Husband said: “The Academy aims to bring a renewed sense of positivity and optimism for businesses when it comes to growing their brands.
“It is fantastic to see so many local food and drink businesses focus on their future and revisit their ambitions for growth after an extraordinarily difficult year.
“These programmes have a real focus on knowledge sharing, upskilling and innovating, and are fundamentally about helping businesses to deliver a real step-change for long-term growth.
“Change that is rooted in the here and now in the commercial realities of the world we live in, but with an eye to the future.”
She added: “Whilst we don’t know what the future might hold, food and drink will undoubtedly continue to be a key export and economic contributor for Scotland.
“We are thrilled to be able to support businesses grow their brand to compete in local, UK and international markets.”
Applications are now open for future cohorts of The Academy. The deadline for applications for cohort two of Seeding Growth, which starts in September, is Sunday June 13.
The Commercial Excellence programme is due to commence later this year.
What do those taking part in The Academy say about the innovative scheme?
Covid-19 has definitely changed my business. I haven’t been able to attend the usual events and farmers’ markets that are part and parcel of running a food business, however, on the flipside of that, online sales have increased significantly.
“There has certainly been an increased consumer interest in buying and supporting local – this is definitely something that people are much more aware of and willing to support.
“I have reached a point in my business journey where I need support and guidance on how to take things to the next level.”
Susan Yule, founder, Hungry Squirrel
Even before the pandemic, things had been getting increasingly difficult for us as our main markets – gift and tourist retailers – were struggling to deal with big changes in consumer purchasing habits.
“Now, more than a year later, we are taking tentative but determined steps to get back to some sort of business normality.
“When we heard of the initiative to help a group of fellow food and drink producers to get ‘back-to-basics’ and to speed our recovery and growth, we were eager to be part of this.”
Yvonne Richmond, Meikles of Scotland
Running a business from a remote Hebridean island is always logistically challenging and, at times, makes you feel very detached and isolated, not least, from your suppliers and customers on the mainland.
“We are really looking forward to fine-tuning our growth plans, exploring new opportunities, learning among other like-minded Scottish entrepreneurs, and sharing our experiences to ensure our business is in the best possible shape to succeed in a post-pandemic global marketplace.”
Finlay Geekie, director, Wild Thyme Spirits
“This past year has proved to us that we needed to look very seriously at what we were doing and achieving.
“The Academy and its programmes could not have come at a better time. We are now on our way to strengthening our business and looking at it from a completely different perspective.
“We are looking forward to the future with a confidence and enthusiasm we have never had before.”
Karen MacDonald, Alba Seafood
I joined The Academy as our business plans had been significantly impacted by the pandemic, and I wanted to gain a better understanding of the routes to market and consumer behaviour as we emerge from the pandemic.
“It felt like perfect timing to gain a better insight into our refreshed business plan, and we needed to understand where and how the market has changed.
“It will give us the tools we need to plan going forward and access to some of the resources to implement them.”
Jill Brown, owner and distiller, Avva Scottish Gin
Lockdown has had a huge impact on us. Our products are available to purchase from our website but, as a newly emerging business, building our brand is key.
“Unfortunately, some of the main routes to achieving this have also been badly impacted.
“Gaining a place on The Academy Seeding Growth programme is a terrific opportunity for us to gain knowledge from and be mentored by some of the best professional and experienced business brains that Scotland has to offer.”
Duncan Morrison, owner and distiller, Roehill Springs Distillery
SFD is currently working towards Ambition 2030, which aims to double the size of Scottish food and drink industry turnover to £30 billion by 2030.
Food and drink is one of the largest industry sectors in Scotland, currently turning over £14bn – an increase of 36% since 2007 – and employing 119,000 people.
Overseas food and drink exports from Scotland are worth £6bn annually, a rise of £570m (11%), compared to 2016, and up £2.5bn (70%) from 2007.
Whisky is Scotland’s largest export followed by seafood, which is sold to more than 100 countries, and within this Scottish salmon is both the UK and Scotland’s biggest food export.
Shellfish, red meat, soft fruit, and potatoes are among the other valuable food products Scotland produces and exports.