By Peredur John, Head of Food Policy, Food Division, Welsh Government.

Wales PreviewThe food industry is the sleeping giant in the Welsh economy. The food supply chain turns over £15.5 billion and employs 222,400 – more than any other sector.

It doesn’t end there as there is plenty of scope for more growth. ‘Towards Sustainable Growth: An Action Plan for the Food and Drink Industry 2014-2020’ is the Welsh Government’s plan of 48 actions to grow this sector by 30% by the year 2020. 

Growth is already happening and in government we will be supporting and enabling that growth. Our vision is an industry that demonstrates strong leadership, is growing sustainably, is fuelled by cutting edge research, innovation and knowledge transfer, and is producing products with a global reputation for quality and safety. The vision encapsulates food businesses of all sizes from the ‘kitchen table’ artisan producer to the large multi-national, businesses with very different ambitions, some with a local customer focus while others will be major players in export markets.

The mantra is GREEN; food businesses impact on our natural resources and must therefore be the custodians of the natural environment. Food businesses can be exemplars of both environmental and social responsibility. In both urban and rural communities food businesses affect people’s everyday lives from ensuring the safety of the food we eat to providing well paid employment, training and careers for life. They are socially responsible and often proactive in sustaining communities and in tackling poverty.

A centre piece for the plan of action is the establishment of a ‘Food and Drink Wales Industry Board’, to epitomise a government, academia and industry partnership approach. The Industry Board is about industry leading for industry and supported by Welsh Government. It will play a key role to ensure we embed sustainability, competitiveness, efficiency, productivity, profitability and the ethos of quality and safety throughout the food and drink industry. Board members share ownership of the action plan and will provide leadership, strategic direction and advise the Welsh Government on delivery priorities.

We know that Welsh food and drink is QUALITY but how do we spread that message? The ‘Bwyd a Diod Cymru’ Identity has been trialled successfully for over 2 years and is now being redefined. The current work is scoping its capabilities, and developing the imagery and the narrative that tells the compelling story of Welsh food and drink.

Among other notable successes, earlier this year we launched the new Food and Drink Wales website and social media channels, to improve two way communications with industry, to promote business support, report on trade successes, and identify new opportunities.

Ministers and Board Members presented at the Royal Welsh Show this summer new baseline data which drills down to food sub-sector performance. We are well on track to meet our 30% target by 2020 having already 11.5% growth in turnover between 2012 and 2014.

Innovation fuels sector growth and ‘Food Innovation Wales’ is our network of food centres and universities available to food businesses to support them in new product development, test manufacturing and marketing, food safety training and accreditations. We are well supported in Wales with 3 recognised food centres, 8 universities and 15 colleges delivering innovation into a sector which spent £4 million on R&D in 2013 and 121 great taste winners in 2014.

In Wales, we have been working on a new approach to business development in the food and drink sector. A new initiative is being designed to use the triple helix approach (government, academia and industry) to cluster development. Businesses learn from each other in a non competitive environment. Clustering has a global track record of success and has now come to Wales. Ifor Ffowcs-Williams, CEO Cluster Navigators, has been advising us on the creation of a range of clusters, including High Growth, Micro Businesses, Shelf life and Healthy Food. We are overrun with companies wishing to participate in our ‘NutriWales’ cluster which aims to develop ‘healthy’ food and drink products to satisfy burgeoning demand for health enhancing diets.

Twitter: @FoodDrinkWales

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