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Food and drink – A skilled, innovative future

Earlier this week I attended the Scotsman conference on food and drink: a skilled, innovative future, in Edinburgh (20th Sept 2016).

The event opened with some impressive stats on Scotland’s Food and Drink sector from this year’s Bank of Scotland report. Over £14 billion a year turnover for Scottish Food and Drink makes it the largest manufacturing sector in Scotland (£1 billion more than oil and gas). A 24% growth in turnover and 14,000 new roles are expected over the next five years.

All very impressive, until conference Chair, Stephen Jardine (Taste Communications) shared his story of recently seeing a ‘double decker’ on the specials board of a food outlet near to his old school in Dumfries. This ‘best-seller’ among school pupils is a slice of orange cheese between two tattie scones, deep-fried - in other words, or one way for a teenager to get their daily calorie intake in one go, for £1.50! We still face a huge challenge of how to improve our Nation’s poor diet.

The event’s speakers all provided thought-provoking and entertaining talks. Here’s my top 5 thoughts from the event:

  1. Teaching primary school children about nutrition and healthy eating should be a main priority. Great things are happening at some schools. We heard about one school that experienced huge demand from pupils wanting to study home economics, which has led to the school expanding their facilities for this subject area. Other schools however are finding a shortage of home economics teachers and having to close down the home economics department.

  2. Nutrition, Food and Drink and Hospitality are attractive career choices and it’s crucial that more young people are inspired to pursue work in this field. Anyone who currently works in these areas, can join the network of Food and Drink Ambassadors created by the Scottish Food and Drink Federation. I have really enjoyed attending school careers fairs and mentoring students to help attract talent to the industry.

  3. Innovation is key to growth in food and drink. With some innovation, the benefits to our diet and nutrition is clear. Forward Thinking Architecture has come up with ‘floating responsive agriculture’ to try to create urban self-sufficiency by floating hydroponic greenhouses in Singapore harbour. Whilst at the other end of the innovation spectrum is virtual reality dining with 3d printed food made with plant extracts. It’s important to ensure that innovation supports a healthy, nutritious diet.

  4. James Withers, Chief Executive of Scotland Food and Drink stated that everything good in the Scottish food and drink sector has come about because of collaboration. The idea of collaboration is not new in Scotland. The Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th and 19th century was a result of collaborative discussions of thinkers and scientists across diverse fields. There is a need now to encourage similar discussions across disciplines to improve Scottish food and drink, the nations’ diet and nutrition and build a ‘Good Food Nation’.

  5. After providing some very comprehensive answers to audience questions, Shirley Spear (Chair or the Scottish Food Commission) on being asked how best to communicate the healthy eating message, suggested one very clear and succinct answer – “Think before you eat”

The speakers in the second session all talked about their appetite for innovation.

Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne, Genius Foods

Jimmy Buchan, Skippers Choice

Erica Moore, Eteaket

Following these talks, I’m now looking forward to trying a tea latte or a tea hot chocolate. I’m on the lookout for some Gurnard - a white fish that more people should try and I will also be mindful of the skilled structural food engineers the next time I tuck into some gluten-free bread.

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