As I See It
How Scotland’s fine cuisine is winning the Mars bar battle
Food and drink experts have taken some time to develop a taste for Scottish food and drink and maybe that should not come as a surprise. Regular jokes about fatty and sugary diets, often self-inflicted, have hardly helped. Nor has the data that confirms some of these jokes to contain elements of truth. Obesity and poor health are a direct result of poor diet and remain big issues.
Add these uncomfortable truths to the portrayal of Scots as heavy drinkers and consumers of deep-fried Mars bars and it is not difficult to see how tough an assignment it is for the marketing and public relations people to convince outsiders that Scotland is actually a land of astonishingly good food and drink.
These contradictory messages and reputations have been in a constant struggle for supremacy, but it may be that the image of Scotland as a land of excellent cuisine is finally winning the battle.
Indeed, home-grown produce has enjoyed a significant rebirth in recent years, with exports hitting new records. Top chefs boast about using Scottish produce, and the big supermarket chains are eager to find new suppliers from biscuit makers to speciality chocolatiers.
For the first time, Spain has entered the top three export destinations for Scottish food and drink, with exports valued at £247m. Overseas sales have extended to emerging markets with exports to China up by 82%.
It has taken some time for Scots themselves to appreciate the value of what is on their own doorstep. From Angus beef to Scottish salmon, the traditional favourites are now enjoying a renaissance in the home as well as in leading restaurants. We are no longer embarrassed by our food and drink. Indeed we want to shout about how good it is.
After a long campaign, Ayrshire’s Dunlop cheese has received EU trademark recognition. Exciting and innovative products are adding to the larder, including craft beers and – new this year – Scotland’s first ever tonic water produced in Moray, and a vodka distilled in East Lothian. The companies behind these products are building massive brand value: Innis & Gunn, a 12-year-old brewer, is now exporting to 20 countries. NB Gin was selected to be the party drink at this year’s BritAwards.
So confident has the industry become that growth has come to be expected. A new report published today reveals that Showcasing Scotland, a meet-the-buyer event in October, will result in £20 million of additional sales over three years.
Last year’s inaugural event involved 600 meetings between buyers and suppliers and led to an uplift in demand, particularly from the major supermarkets. The organisers are hopeful they will return to Gleneagles for the two days of meetings in the autumn.
Recent figures show exactly how the industry’s growth has taken off. Exports last year of Scottish food passed £1.1 billion while total food and drink sales hit £5.1bn. The industry has ambitious growth plans, with an export target of £7.1bn by 2017.
Susan Beattie, head of food & drink at Scottish Development International, said early feedback from the Showcasing Scotland 2014 event has been “overwhelmingly positive” and this year’s event will be enhanced by having a full team of global food & drink specialists on board, making it easier to follow up on positive leads.
As a reflection of this new-found confidence the recent food and drink excellence awards ceremony at the National Museum had no difficulty selling 800 tickets at £200 a head.
Registration is now open for Showcasing Scotland. Given the growing interest in the sector anyone interested ought to book early, or risk missing out.