Royal Highland Show 2023: New food and drink strategy launched to support recovery and growth

Published 26/06/2023 by Stuart Black 5 min read

Scotland Food & Drink Partnership board

Stuart Black, HIE’s Chief Executive reflects on his recent visit to the Royal Highland Show and highlights the importance of the new food and drink strategy for businesses in the region.

Last Friday I joined our chair Alistair Dodds on a visit to the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston near Edinburgh. This annual 4-day event showcases the best of Scotland’s food, farming and rural life and is a useful reminder of the critical role our region’s land, sea and people play in food and drink production.

Our first engagement was the launch of ‘Sustaining Scotland. Supplying the World’. The new 10-year industry-led strategy has been a collaborative effort between a range of partners and aims for a 25% increase in turnover for Scotland’s food and drink industry in the first five years by 2028. The strategy was launched by First Minister Humza Yousaf who announced £5m of Scottish Government funding to support the first year of delivery for the new strategy along with £1m from industry.

As members of the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership we’ve supported the development of this new plan over the last year, and we were pleased to attend the launch. More than 5,000 food and drink businesses are registered in the Highlands and Islands and 36,000 people are employed in the sector. It’s a vitally important industry in our region, which is home to some of the world’s best produce, and supports and benefits from tourism. These two sectors are fundamental to our region’s future success.

We very much look forward working together with our public and private sector partners to ensure the strategy and its associated funding support builds a more sustainable, resilient and valuable sector in the Highlands and Islands.   

We met Iain Baxter, CEO of Scotland Food & Drink before attending the ‘Farming with Nature’ reception with NatureScot. We also joined the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, Mairi Gougeon, for a reception in partnership with Scotland Food & Drink to celebrate the sector and end our trip to the show.

We were delighted to meet with a range of food and drink producers from the Highlands and Islands such as Dunnet Bay Distillers, Orkney Cheese, J. Gow, Westray Bakery, and Gordon and MacPhail. It was great to hear directly from the businesses about how much interest they’ve had for their products at the show and about their ambitious plans for growth.

Alistair and I met with Professor Wayne Powell, Principal and CEO of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and enjoyed learning more about cutting-edge research and innovation projects from staff at their stand. This included finding out more about net zero audits for farms and crofts, and treatment for the serious Johne’s disease affecting ruminants, from two spin-out companies.

We currently share a building with SRUC at Inverness Campus and are looking forward to the opening of their new Rural and Veterinary Innovation Centre (RAVIC) next door to us, later this year. The new building will house their researchers, students and also provide space for innovative businesses. We discussed the potential for the new building to support Scotland’s innovation strategy by growing the life science cluster on the campus.

Aquaculture, agritech and animal health are all key industries in our region. Agriculture, forestry and fishing make up 4.9% of the Highlands and Islands’ GVA, compared to 1.7% of Scotland’s GVA.

There have been significant investments in research and development in aquaculture in Wester Ross and the Outer Hebrides which have seen growth in aquaculture and seaweed farming. On Wednesday, before the show, we visited Bakkafrost’s new smolt growing facility at Kishorn, a near £100m investment in the sector supported by £3m from HIE and £2m from Marine Scotland.

Recently when the HIE board visited Argyll we went to see the Seaweed Academy. This Oban based academy hosted by the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) Enterprises offers courses for individuals and businesses looking to improve their technical knowledge or gain accreditation in required skills for cultivating seaweed.  HIE’s Malin House next to SAMS is already home to several innovative companies and is supporting cluster growth in marine science.

I am excited about the regional transformation opportunities in aquaculture: it’s a high quality employer for around 11,400 people in our region. The industry's supply chain also offers many prospects – Scotland is internationally renowned for its expertise in these areas of life sciences.

We’re planning a joint conference with SRUC in 2024 in Inverness that will bring together industry and research in the aquaculture, agritech and animal health sectors: “A3 Scotland 2024”. More information will be available soon on this important event with c200 delegates.

The Royal Highland Show visit was an inspirational day and clearly a success, drawing sell-out crowds. Alistair and I are already looking forward to the show next year and seeing more success and innovation from Highlands and Islands based companies and our regional partners.