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New training scheme to help region's food and drink producers achieve growth

Published: 10/06/2021

Ten businesses in the Highlands and Islands are among the first to sign up to The Academy, a new initiative to drive growth in Scotland’s food and drink sector.

Smoked salmon presented with salad and pepper corns

The Scotland Food & Drink Partnership, of which HIE is a member, launched The Academy in late January, after the industry was one of the hardest hit by COVID-19 and Brexit.

Delivered in partnership with training experts, Levercliff Associates, it aims to help companies sell themselves, build their brands, thrive and compete. It is open to food and drink firms of all sizes and ambition.

Moray businesses Avva Gin and Roehill Springs Distillery, Oban based Alba Seafood and island businesses Wild Thyme Spirits on Colonsay and The Scottish Salmon Company in Lewis have joined The Academy’s Seeding Growth programme.

Companies have been supported through this 12-week programme since May. It aims to maximise local markets and helps businesses begin to consider opportunities in the broader Scottish marketplace.

Isle of Skye Distillers, Lussa Drinks Company on Jura, Meikles of Scotland in Newtonmore, Orkney Creamery and Shetland Distillery, meanwhile, are upskilling on the Accelerating Growth programme.

This is aimed at established businesses already supplying large customers in Scotland and looking to advance in the wider UK market. It starts in June and runs for six months.

Laura Robertson, development manager at HIE's food and drink team, said that it’s a great opportunity for the firms to really focus on their growth. She continued:

“The food and drink sector is crucial for our region and supports many vital rural jobs. Unfortunately, the past year has been extremely challenging for the sector, which has been impacted considerably by both the pandemic and Brexit.

“The Academy is all about supporting firms at different stages in their growth plans and looking to turn those plans into profits. It’s great to see so much interest from rural SMEs. This is a great opportunity for them to really focus on developing their growth and we look forward to seeing them benefit as a result of their participation.”

Finlay Geekie, director at Wild Thyme Spirits, said:

“Running a business from a remote Hebridean island is always logistically challenging and, at times, makes you feel very detached and isolated, not least, from your suppliers and customers on the mainland. This was brutally exposed during the pandemic, but thankfully Scotland Food & Drink had our back, with regular updates, advice, and always a friendly voice on the end of the phone, to help us steer a safe passage through the troubled waters of Covid-19.

“The opportunity to become involved in The Academy business development programme was, therefore, an easy decision. We are really looking forward to fine tuning our growth plans, exploring new opportunities, learning amongst other like-minded Scottish entrepreneurs, and sharing our experiences to ensure our business is in the best possible shape to succeed in a post-pandemic global marketplace.”

Claire Fletcher, co-owner Lussa Drinks Company, said:

“I’m chuffed to have been selected for The Academy. Our business has managed to pull through during Covid, and we’re now on the cusp of scaling everything up to meet increasing demand for Lussa Gin.

“Our remote island location - as much as it’s an amazing wilderness in which to live – can be challenging to run a business from and we have very few opportunities to network and learn, which is why I’m looking forward to seeing what I can pick up from the online courses.

“Scotland Food & Drink have been hugely supportive for us, and we successfully secured a big export deal to the USA after their Showcasing Scotland event at Gleneagles in 2019 so I’m keen to exploit all opportunities The Academy can bring us”.

Lucy Husband, market development and business engagement director at Scotland Food & Drink, added: 

“The Academy aims to bring a renewed sense of positivity and optimism for businesses when it comes to growing their brands. It is fantastic to see so many local food and drink businesses focus on their future and revisit their ambitions for growth after an extraordinarily difficult year.

“These programmes have a real focus on knowledge sharing, upskilling and innovating, and are fundamentally about helping businesses to deliver a real step-change for long term growth. Change that is rooted in the here and now in the commercial realities of the world we live in, but with an eye to the future.

“Whilst we don’t know what the future might hold, food and drink will undoubtedly continue to be a key export and economic contributor for Scotland and we are thrilled to be able to support businesses grow their brand to compete in local, UK and international markets.”

The Academy programmes are the first major investment from the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership’s £5m Recovery Plan, which is supported by The Scottish Government. It will run for two and a half years and aims to support over 200 Scottish businesses.

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