FDF wants ‘new sector deal’ to boost productivity

The FDF urged government to invest in innovation and apprenticeships

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has called on the government to create “a new sector deal” for UK food and drink manufacturers, to exploit export growth opportunities that are expected after Brexit.

The new deal would create an environment that would promote investment for innovation, increase the number of manufacturing apprenticeships and encourage food and drink exports. The call came after a report by Grant Thornton, commissioned by the FDF, identified growth opportunities in the sector to boost productivity.

FDF director general Ian Wright said: “The issues facing the food and drink industry are complex, but if we find the right solutions there is great reward – not just for our sector and the wider economy. We believe a new sector deal, working in partnership with government and the ‘farm-to-fork’ supply chain, will harness this potential.

“This detailed report charts the future shape of our industry for many years to come. It is a welcome assessment of the significant opportunities available to boost the productivity of the food and drink industry at a time of great economic uncertainty.”

Modern manufacturing

Key growth opportunities for food and drink manufacturers included understanding consumer behaviour, exporting to countries outside of the EU, and moving to modern manufacturing with automation, according to the report – ‘The Food and Drink Industry: Economic contribution and growth opportunities’.

Government must work with education providers to increase the availability of food and drink manufacturing apprenticeships, the report urged. It would also improve the sector’s image by raising awareness of potential career opportunities. It came after the report revealed the sector needed to recruit 140,000 new workers by 2024.

The FDF also said government should invest in fundamental and applied innovation research for the food and drink manufacturing sector. The research could help to cut product sugar and calorie levels.

A specialist export organisation should be created to turbocharge sales of UK food and drink globally, the FDF said. Government should look to Bord Bia as inspiration to help manufacturers identify distributors in markets across the world, it added.

UK’s global food and drink export market share

Just one in five manufacturers export, the report revealed, and the UK’s global food and drink export market share was less than half of France and Germany’s share.

FDF president and Premier Foods chief executive Gavin Darby said: “Our industry is critical to national security and the prosperity of our wider economy. We have a well-earned global reputation for provenance, quality and innovation.

“The challenges we face in the next few years are unparalleled. We are a resilient and adaptable industry – we know there are huge opportunities available to our sector so we can sell more great British food and drink. Therefore, it is key that we identify how best to harness our own growth potential and improve productivity.”

The industry would seize upon the opportunities in partnership with government, to boost productivity, Darby added. The sector could be “an engine for economic growth in the UK”, while continuing to provide safe, innovative and nutritious food and drink to the nation, he said.

FDF key recommendations for government
  • Increase availability of food and drink manufacturing apprentices by working with education providers
  • Help to enhance the food and drink industry’s image
  • Raise awareness of the range of career opportunities on offer
  • Prioritise food and drink in relation to any new immigration policy.
  • Support research to cut sugar levels and take a holistic approach to calorie reformulation.
  • Facilitate innovation through support for fundamental and applied research.
  • Encourage more food and drink manufacturers to export
  • Work with industry to increase provision of specialist export support
  • Identify distributors in untapped markets.
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