Strong Scottish food & drink brands will instil referendum confidence, says Scot food minister

“We can’t compete on commodities. But we can offer a clean and green image of premium brands,” says Scotland’s food minister Richard Lochhead. Highland cow, photo credit: Richard Sz.

Retail sales of Scottish food and drink brands in the UK rose by £513m from 2007 – figures the Scottish government says will deliver clout in the upcoming independence referendum.

According to Kantar Worldpanel figures, Scot brands amounted to £1.914bn in retail sales across Scotland, England and Wales in the year leading up to May 2014 – an increase of 36.6% over the previous seven-year period.

Scottish whiskey brands like Famous Grouse and Bells were the two most popular Scottish drink brands, while McLelland Seriously Strong Spreadable Cheese was the country’s most popular food brand.

The statistics come just months before a referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom, something the UK government has called a once-in-a-generation opportunity”. 

Discussing the statistics, Scotland’s food minister Richard Lochhead told FoodNavigator: “There is a huge amount of momentum behind the Scottish food and drink industry at the moment. The world is crying out for Scottish produce – for produce with provenance.”

“The people of Scotland are very proud of their food and drink industry. These kinds of figures give people confidence that Scotland could be an independent economic pillar.”

“With independence, food and drink exports will continue to be a priority area for Scotland’s international trade efforts. With our overseas representation dedicated solely to Scotland’s own priorities we can promote our products to the world and tackle barriers to trade that the Westminster [UK] government does not prioritise,” he said.

He said one of those trade barriers was the difference between Scottish and UK stance on European Union membership.

Top Scottish food and drink brands in UK: Kantar

Exporting Scotland

He said this drive in exports was a “direct result” of the partnership between the Scottish government, agencies and industry – with these statistics coming after its food and drink industry “smashed” its export target six years ahead of schedule, and set a new goal of £7.1bn by 2017. 

Between May 2013 and May 2014, the estimated value of retail sales of Scottish food and drink brands was up 3.3%. While the value of retail sales of Scottish food and drink brands in Scotland still accounts for

a larger share (6.2%) of total grocery sales relative to that in Britain (1.9%), year-on-year growth in the value of retail sales of Scottish food and drink brands in Britain has outperformed that seen in Scotland over the period 2007 to 2014 overall, the government said. 

Lochhead said that independence for Scotland would mean it could continue these efforts with greater focus. He said on a recent trade tour of Japan a British consulate had said that gaining Asian export entry for Scottish beef was “not a priority”.  

“Understandably the UK government focuses on UK interest, whereas [an independent] Scottish government would be 100% focused on Scotland.”

He said one of the biggest differences in trade proprieties was UK Euroscepticism, saying if Britain was to pull back from the EU this would be “against the wishes of Scotland”.

“That’s the biggest fear for the Scottish industry.”

Lochhead highlighted worldwide exportation as a key priority area, targeting the growing global middle classes in particular.

“We can’t compete on commodities. But we can offer a clean and green image of premium brands.”

He said Scotland was building on its traditional brands for things like whiskey and shortbread, while introducing a “modern twist” with products like chocolates and craft beers.   

A reputation

Last year a three-year study by the UK Department for Food and Environmental Affairs (DEFRA) revealed that Scottish people consumed more fizzy drinks and sweets and ate less fruit and vegetables when compared to the UK average. At the time, Murdo Fraser, a member of Scottish Parliament for the Scottish Conservatives, said more had to be done to shake Scotland’s “Sick Man of Europe tag”.

Asked if this reputation might pose a barrier in transforming Scotland into what Lochhead called a “land of food and drink”, the food minister said perhaps “once upon a time” Scotland had been associated with negative diet images but now it was increasingly known for its premium and quality products like seafood.

On September 18 this year the Scottish population will have the opportunity to vote to stay in the United Kingdom with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or become an independent country. 

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