BREXIT CHALLENGES FACING YORKSHIRE FOOD AND DRINK INDUSTRY – BUT IT’S NOT ALL DOOM AND GLOOM!
“It’s important as we face Brexit that the food and drink industry comes together.”
Wise words indeed from Ian Wright CBE, the director-general of the Food & Drink Federation, a key speaker at York’s very first Food and Drink Conference. He talked of problems including currency fluctuations and a labour shortfall with thousands of workers due to retire soon and some foreign employees already starting to leave Britain. Mr Wright also wondered what would replace the Common Agricultural Policy and how that would affect UK farmers, and how food is grown, for generations.
But the industry boss, who has worked in the sector for years, also said the future was “very exciting. Brits are obsessed by food, and this industry has so much innovation and entrepreneurship.” England was behind other UK regions in terms of promoting its food, he said, but Brexit means the opportunity to “sell more to our own population – we have 65 million people.”
York and the surrounding area is home to one of the largest concentrations of food and drink companies in the country, from specialist artisan makers and brewers to multinationals, including Nestle. The firm’s Richard Wood, an expert in food law and regulation, told the audience at York’s Park Inn by Radisson Hotel that trends and opportunities in the F & D sector were numerous. They included consumers becoming more adventurous and wanting more natural products, as well as a “fashion for sustainability and alternative sources of protein such as Quorn.”
Yorkshire’s first Food & Drink Conference
However, the September 28th event, organised by Make It York, was not just about big organisations and big names. It also celebrated “Growth from Small Beginnings”, with a panel of local speakers explaining how their businesses grew into thriving enterprises. Phil Clayton, who used to help manage a Virgin Megastore, turned his passion for baking into the Haxby Bakehouse. Despite his long shifts and anti-social hours, he clearly loves what he does. “I never wake up and think, s—, I have to go to work!” he laughed. Some of his bread takes three days to make and he often talks on Twitter to other bakers around the world and in the UK “and learns from them”, saying independent bakers should “get together to swap skills.”
Meanwhile Judy Bell, MBE, began Shepherds Purse Cheese in the late 80s using sheep’s milk after seeing many people were intolerant to milk from cows. She even taught herself to milk sheep. Now the business is an award-winning firm that featured on Concorde’s menu and has worked with cheesemaker Alex James, bassist with the band Blur. Judy emphasised that “Brand Yorkshire is fantastic – let’s join together and shout about how great our county is.”
That’s something the Department of International Trade’s Stephen Noblett does every day; his remit includes leading on overseas missions and giving export advice to Yorkshire/Humber and Northern Powerhouse food and drink firms. He told the conference that Brexit views varied depending on place. “Our European cousins think we’re mad but outside of Europe some say we should have been out ages ago.”
Mr Noblett, who brings firms and embassies from abroad to visit the North, said he could help “unlock some doors” and added: “The Yorkshire and Humber brand is well sought after. Don’t be frightened by exports.” The region makes up 15% of the British food and drink industry, he said, before urging the audience: “We need to shout about this more!”
How do Yorkshire businesses feel?
One Yorkshire firm already being well and truly shouted about is Harrogate Spring Water. Its long list of achievements includes giving almost £2 million to help deliver clean water in Africa as well as being the official water of English cricket. The firm even made a new bottle for Cathay Pacific Airways and this year it announced growth of 30 per cent, while exports rose by 50%. Managing director James Cain, who used to work for Asda Wal-Mart and sat in on board meetings in Arkansas in the USA, said: “We have to get on with Brexit. We make up about 2% of the UK market; about 30% of the UK’s bottled water comes from abroad. This is an opportunity to share our heritage and celebrate home grown products.”
Sharing our heritage is something that Sophie Jewett, MD of the five-year-old York Cocoa House, has already been doing, encouraging York’s residents and visitors to learn more about the role of the city in the development of the chocolate and confectionery industry. Ms Jewett recently returned from a trade mission to Columbia where she learned more about the farmers who grow cocoa.
She had this advice for the audience: “Don’t compare yourself to others; that can be your downfall. We need to get together and not see each other as competition. The world is becoming more socially conscious – consumers want the truth behind the label, they want transparency.”
Ms Jewett refers to chocolate as “the food of the gods”. But it’s not all in the hands of the gods as to what happens next in Yorkshire’s food and industry sector. Inspiring people and firms and interesting times – what’s around the corner for York and Yorkshire’s food and drink industry? Watch this space!
At Pick & Mix Marketing we’ve already helped various ‘food’ clients including M & K Butchers on York’s Bishopthorpe Road – after we got involved they had their best Christmas for 35 years in terms of turkey sales. We’ve also taken Tancred Farm Shop into the digital world; they now have more than 700 Twitter followers – many of them customers – interested to know that the business rears and butchers its pork and beef on site and makes its own pig food.
Perhaps it’s time to get in touch and find out how we can help YOUR food/drink business?