There are two key figures in the battle to turn Scotland's food and drink industries into truly world class players. Geoffrey John, chairman of the Food and Drink Industry Strategy Group, is bringing projects to the boil that will help companies think added value rather than just raw material; while Jonathan Tait of Scottish Enterprise is urging co-operation and more ambitious thinking. Interviews by Julian Hunt and Sarah Hardcastle John: a missionary The arrival of Geoffrey John as chairman of the Scottish Food and Drink Industry Strategy Group earlier this year marked the start of the next ­ and probably most exciting ­ phase of the country's cluster project. The time for research and debate is over, says John. The challenge now is to make things happen. "A lot of work has been done. My role is turn it into practical action," he says. "There are immediate benefits to be gained from helping operators on the practicalities of dealing with customers. There are also longer term issues like the whole innovation process that we have to stimulate." John says the group he chairs has identified 10 projects that can be delivered as a priority this year. These include the creation of a marketing centre for the industry; a programme to advise firms on how to maximise operational efficiency; the building up of innovation and npd expertise across the regions; the launch of a mentoring scheme; and work on developing foodservice. "Take the Loadshare distribution initiative," adds John. "That's a very attractive concept with immediate benefits, but the take up has been very limited. That's because we have to get the idea across to companies. It's hugely valuable. We have to get more companies participating and that's one of my responsibilities. The work's been done, the concepts are there. Now let's get them used." In many ways, John's role is akin to that of a missionary. He is trying to persuade companies to effect change, while simultaneously spreading the word about an industry that clearly still excites him. But as a former CEO of two major food companies, and former chairman of Dairy Crest, the Meat and Livestock Commission and Food from Britain, John was perfectly qualified for the role. He adds: "It is always easy and comfortable to maintain the status quo. One of my functions is to challenge that and say here are the opportunities, get after them'." One of the biggest opportunities lies in exploiting the market for value added products. "There has been an emphasis in the past on the raw material," says John. "Farmers were rewarded for efficiency, yields and productivity and they responded magnificently. But we are now moving to a demand focus. And I think the work we are doing to encourage the introduction of a value added dimension to first class raw materials has to be the way forward." He holds up the Scottish fish industry as one sector working hard in this area, praising it for being "remarkable, very good and showing the way forward". John adds: "Both for the meat and the fish that has to be a key objective to get the processing and value added within the country. And that goes back to our targets." The targets should by now be well known. Scotland's food industry wants to take its turnover from £4.2bn to £7.4bn (excluding whisky) by 2010. It wants to treble exports to £1.5bn. And it wants value added products to account for £2.5bn of the total ­ compared with £1bn today. The targets are ambitious. But John insists the industry is rising to the challenge and says his group can see itself helping as many as 80 companies. "We have got to open people's eyes to the wider markets. The world is becoming a much smaller place ­ you can deliver product to foodservice people in Paris overnight ­ and yet some operators still don't see it like that." Existing players must be prepared to continue reinvesting in their operations. And, he says, new people must be encouraged to come into the business: "The barriers to entry have come down. Twenty years ago you had to have a big sales force. You had to have an ad campaign. Today you only have to talk to four buyers and they are hungry for something different." With that in mind, he is hoping to set up a venture capital fund to help foster an even greater entrepreneurial spirit in the industry ­ by developing existing businesses and fostering the creation of new ones. "We are opening doors," he says, "And we must persuade the industry to walk through them." {{Z SUPPLEMENTS }}