Trends and Opportunities for Scottish Food and Drink Businesses

Over the past ten years, Scottish food and drink has become synonymous with quality, earning it a positive reputation both at home and internationally.

Currently, 14 kinds of Scottish produce enjoy protected status, including Scotch whisky, Scottish wild salmon and Scotch beef.

Scottish food and drink brands are now worth over £15 billion to the economy each year, with global exports and sales of Scottish brands in the UK significantly higher than at the beginning of the last decade.1

In normal times, Scotch whisky is one of the strongest performers in this area. In 2018, the equivalent of 39 bottles of whisky was shipped overseas every second.2

The food and drink sector in Scotland was hit hard by both Brexit and Covid-19. But new opportunities give reason for optimism about the sector's recovery.

 

Scottish Food and Drink Trend #1: Local Markets


Local consumers' eyes were opened to the delights of Scottish food and drink during the pandemic. 

Industry body, Scotland Food and Drink highlights that: "The support shown by consumers towards local food and drink producers […] has increased notably during the pandemic”,3 indicating an opportunity to capitalise on this trend.

Increased education, sustainable preferences and a conscientious trend towards supporting local businesses have all contributed to an appetite for local produce. 

Opportunities

Given the increased interest in local produce, it is important for Scottish food and drink brands of all sizes to assess their current positioning. 

Scotland Food and Drink's Recovery Plan highlights that: "Many of the businesses that successfully develop customers across the rest of the UK and internationally, have begun with a strong foundation in the local, Scottish market.”3

Brands should assess whether their communications strategies are sufficiently aligned with a local demographic, and question what steps can be taken to engage people locally. 

Questions like: "How easy is it for local people to access our product?", and "Who are our competitors at local level?" will be valuable at this stage. 

Developing a finely crafted online presence will offer support in this domain. HubSpot found that 97% of people use online search to learn about local companies than any other medium and that 88% of mobile online searches for local businesses result in a call or visit within one day.4

 

Scottish Food and Drink Trend #2: Wider-UK Interest

In addition to local appetite, interest in Scottish food and drink is steadily increasing across the UK. 

Scotland Food and Drink has identified that: “There remain real opportunities for growth in the biggest cities, not least London, where the high-end hospitality and tourism sector are a significant market opportunity.”

With tourism set to resume across the UK, Scottish food and drink brands could benefit from an association with luxury tourism. 

 

Opportunities 

Now is a good time to start seeking out connections with leaders in luxury hospitality and tourism in the UK's major cities.

Emphasis on quality and provenance is critical here. If your product is protected by geographical indication (GI) status, it's time to start clearly explaining to prospective customers what that means. 

Scotch whisky, for example, can only be made with cereals, water and yeast distilled in Scotland.1 Providing little snippets of insight can help luxury brand leaders understand how an affiliation with your produce makes their brand more marketable to customers.

Produce doesn't necessarily need GI to stand out, however. By developing a compelling brand story, you can create a buzz around your food or drink product. 

Food brand Kerry notes: “Consumers want to understand where their food comes from and how it is produced, so any story around those elements can impact consumer trust […]”.5

A good brand story will help to create an emotional link between the customer and the brand itself, and ultimately, drive sales.

 

Scottish Food and Drink Trend #3: International Relationships


As you might expect, Scottish exports were down significantly in 2020, thanks to the untimely pandemic coupled with complications from Brexit.

Speaking to Holyrood Magazine, the SNP's Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy said: "There is no doubt the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit taken together represent the biggest challenge and threat to our food and drink sector for a generation.”6

The whisky industry has been particularly impacted over the last year, with global exports down by more than £1.1bn. According to the Scotch Whisky Association, that's the industry's worst export performance in the past decade. The recent 25% US import tariff and Covid-19 have been deemed the main culprits.7

There is optimism, however, as: "the underlying strength of Scotland's brand remains", with strong connections and relationships to export partners still in place across the globe, and in particular, the EU, to whom Scotland still directs two-thirds of its exports.3

 

Opportunities

There's no denying that a diminished international market is a significant source of struggle for businesses at the moment. But let's not forget that businesses consist of real people. 

The short-term focus should be on maintaining existing relationships with buyers and building upon them, meaning when current issues are resolved, there will be no delay in re-commencing exports. 

Maintaining a strong email marketing campaign as well as a consistent online presence will ensure you're not forgotten by valued international customers.

 

Scottish Food and Drink Trend #4: Sustainability 


Over the next two decades, the goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions will underpin the work of practically every industry in Scotland. The Scottish Government's 2045 net-zero targets are legally binding, meaning businesses will have to follow suit.8

Work is already underway in the food and drink sector, with Scotland Food & Drink recently releasing its "Greening Your Business" net-zero toolkit for SMEs,9 and the Scotch Whisky Association committing to an early industry-wide net-zero target by 2040.7

But more than being a legal requirement, sustainable practices are fast becoming a priority for consumers. When it comes to drinks, 73% of consumers would choose environmentally friendly packaging if given the choice and 50% would even pay more for the privilege.10

 

Opportunities 

Now is the time to take action on sustainable practices within your business. Brands who commit to meaningful change: "could make [their] business more resilient, win new customers and contracts [and] tap into post-pandemic consumer trends”.11

Brands who leave it too late to adopt sustainable practices risk developing a negative reputation, both within their industry and amongst consumers. 

Don't wait to communicate your plans for sustainable change: do it now. By outlining the planned stages of your phased transition to net-zero, you can generate goodwill from the start. 

While we might not be seeing a total consumer rejection of unsustainable practices right now, the tide is turning, meaning brands who wish to grow their customer base will need to act fast.

 

Final thoughts

There's no denying that food and drink brands face an uphill battle to overcome the hurdles created by the previous year's events. But combining high-quality produce coupled with a strong communications strategy is still a recipe for success.

 

Next steps

If you'd like to discuss a marketing strategy for your food or drink brand, contact the Moment team .

 


Sources

  1. Scotland Food and Drink (About the Industry)
  2. Scotland Food and Drink (Whisky 2019)
  3. Scotland Food and Drink (Recovery Plan)
  4. HubSpot
  5. Kerry
  6. Holyrood
  7. Scotch Whisky Association
  8. Scottish Government
  9. The Scottish Farmer
  10.  Food and Drink Technology
  11.  Herald