North east Scotland's food, drink, agriculture and fishing sectors will be at the forefront of the industry's national recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The region accounts for 20% of Scotland's food and drink and produces significant shares of the national primary production of seafood, beef, pork and malting barley. Businesses across the sector employ more than 22,000 people and are now at the heart of the drive to rebuild the economy.
Private-sector economic development company Opportunity North East has worked with food and drink businesses to support long-term growth since 2016. Stanley Morrice, chair of the ONE Food, Drink & Agriculture board, says the pandemic has accelerated change across the industry.
"COVID-19 has had a huge impact across markets and consumer behaviour through to travel restrictions and social distancing in the workplace," said Mr Morrice.
"The foodservice market dropped off following lockdown, but many businesses supplying retailers are busier than ever and are investing and expanding. We have also seen consumers return to cooking from scratch and connecting with producers online to buy direct, creating some opportunities for new routes to market.
"Businesses of all sizes across the region have demonstrated impressive adaptability and resilience during this global crisis, underlining the quality of our sector and its leadership. Agility and innovation will be necessary for the rebuilding and recovery phases. As will securing additional investment in critical sector projects – including the SeedPod centre of excellence and the transformation project for seafood manufacturing, which is our largest sector – to drive recovery regionally and nationally.
"A priority for ONE, working with industry and partners, is to make the strongest case for additional public funding in growth projects, giving the private sector confidence to invest. That will create new products, jobs, higher productivity and a greener, net-zero carbon industry," said Mr Morrice.
ONE is now working with businesses on reset and recovery priorities including productivity, export growth and environmental performance.
Peter Cook, Director of Food, Drink and Agriculture at ONE, said: "Businesses want information on the new market reality. More than 50 businesses have participated in our market insights webinars that included the latest UK data and trends and post lockdown lessons from our in-country specialist in China. We will be working with businesses on how they turn selling online direct to consumers from a survival strategy to a profitable option."
ONE will leverage its co-funding of the Scotland Food & Drink Export Partnership to connect more north east businesses with in-country experts in key international markets.
"Seeking out the best paying opportunities around the world remains a top priority," said Mr Cook. "There are huge opportunities ahead for the world-class products from this region."
ONE's work with food and drink businesses over the next year will include mentoring, one to one support for high-growth companies, and peer to peer industry leadership development. Major sector projects will be even more critical.
"Focusing on our key food and drink sectors, challenges, and opportunities will help businesses grow out of this crisis. We are fast-tracking work with partners on the seafood manufacturing transformation project to secure funding to invest and add more value to increased fish landings in the region. Productivity is a priority for the whole industry, so we are also accelerating our work on advanced manufacturing and automation and focusing on significant supply chains in our agrifood technology programme," said Mr Cook.
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