The industry can achieve the FDF’s vision if government eases the regulatory and tax burden

Earlier this week, the Food and Drink Federation and government launched their shared vision for sustainable growth in the food and drink industry. Our 20/20 vision is for the sector to grow by 20% by 2020.

This vision flowed from work by Grant Thornton for the FDF on the industry’s growth potential. Chief executives outlined the threats and opportunities they face and what they considered their potential if the right conditions were in place. They found many positive factors. The industry has increased exports in the past six years, reduced its environmental footprint, created new job opportunities at every level and innovated and invested to deliver value and choice for consumers.

Grant Thornton also found that there was every opportunity to grow as the increasing population drives demand at home and abroad. Changing dietary patterns will drive demand for value-added products in developing markets and an ageing population is increasing the demand for health and wellness products.

The work also brought into sharp focus our key strengths and advantages: our product quality, brands, innovation, efficiency and productivity.

But it also highlighted significant challenges. We’re not alone in identifying export as a main route to growth. Our international competitors have aggressive, often state-backed plans to increase their market share in our target markets.

Our SMEs find it difficult to access bank finance and existing government incentive schemes. We face a shortage of talent and also skills in key disciplines. And, above all, the CEOs were clear that we need a competitive UK business environment - increasingly volatile and in some cases artificially high commodity prices and the UK’s regulatory and tax system make it difficult to plan while also acting as a brake on investment.

Of course, we are already working well together to overcome some of the challenges. For example, the Defra export forum that I co-chair with minister Jim Paice is working through the difficult issues and will publish its action plan next year. Much of our joint work already embodies the partnership approach we will require and we will need to work together even more closely. But it’s important to stress this isn’t growth at any cost. Our commitment is to sustainable growth. Last week, the FDF’s fourth annual progress report on the Five-fold Environmental Ambition clearly showed our industry is able to grow while cutting its environmental impact. Our industry also continues to deliver its own initiatives, and the key activity within the Responsibility Deal framework, to improve public health.

While many of our traditional industries struggle, either with changes in technology and consumer tastes, or with very different and difficult economic conditions, we have shown resilience and resolve to grow and adapt.

Of course 20% growth by 2020 is ambitious but given the right entrepreneurial approach on the part of business, and the right operating framework from government, it is achievable.