What’s next for food and drink manufacturing?

Posted on 17 Sep 2010 by The Manufacturer

Julian Hunt from the Food and Drink Federation on the challenges facing the industry

For most of this year, the Food and Drink Federation has been working with the Institute for Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge on a project designed to help us, as a trade association, articulate more clearly the value of our sector to the UK economy.

As part of that project, we recently undertook a major scenario planning exercise to explore how food and drink manufacturing may develop in the future and identify how industry and Government should work together to ensure the continued growth and success of our economically-important sector.

The IfM’s work has already confirmed our status as an important, high-value manufacturing sector offering world class capabilities in areas of production, logistics, sales, marketing and innovation.

As we have reported in this column, the IfM researchers also highlighted the fact that the food and drink sector has been one of the most resilient elements of the manufacturing sector throughout the economic turbulence in recent years; it invests heavily in innovation, R&D and new products; and it provides well-paid and secure employment – despite the image that some may still have about our role as an employer.

Whichever metric you choose, ours is clearly a successful sector.

But when thinking about our resource-constrained future such success cannot – and should not – be taken for granted.

The IfM scenario work confirms that industry representatives, Government officials and civil society groups all recognise that ‘business as usual’ will no longer be good enough.

They rightly feel that we need to change the rules of the game and that will require more leadership from Government (as well as from industry); the creation of genuine partnerships between the food sector and different Whitehall departments; and a willingness on all sides to accelerate the good work that is already underway.

The report published by the IfM paints a picture – and not always a very pretty one either – of the very real challenges that food and drink manufacturers will have to address as we look to maintain the nation’s future food security against the combined effects of climate change, higher global demand for agricultural products and increasing pressure on finite resources.

In fact many of the issues – not least increasingly volatile ingredients prices – are not tomorrow’s issues; they are already directly impacting our businesses.

Agreeing how industry and the Government should work together to respond strategically to those sorts of challenges is rightly a priority for FDF, as is encouraging the Government to put our sector at the heart of its economic thinking as we seek to rebalance the UK economy.

As the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector, we also want to see a fiscal framework that promotes resource efficiency, stimulates innovation and ensures, above all else, that the UK will attract the level of investment that will be needed if our sector is to continue thriving in the decades ahead.

When you look at all the challenges we face – from the health of the nation to the health of the planet – it’s clear we can only respond effectively if we have a successful food manufacturing sector here in the UK.

I am positive about the future for food and drink manufacturing here in the UK. I remain convinced that our sector will successfully adapt to the many changes happening around it, benefiting society as a whole. And I am confident that we will be able to work with our colleagues across Government to bring these broad ambitions to life, in a way that genuinely values the UK’s food and drink manufacturing industry.

Julian Hunt, director of communications, FDF