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 Tait: Enterprise's frontiers Creating a global industry out of hundreds of small to medium size food and drink businesses is no mean task. But this is the hugely ambitious goal of Scotland's food and drink strategy, unfurled nearly two years ago by Scottish Enterprise. SE's food and drink team, headed by director Jonathan Tait, has had the monumental job of getting it off the ground. One of the biggest challenges has been convincing Scotland's notoriously reserved and isolationist small business community that they must work together if the strategy is to be achieved. Tait is upbeat about the progress made. "The strategy's purpose is to get everyone involved, playing on the same pitch and aiming at the same goalposts. "The industry is now starting to buy into this. They realise it's the key to their future and their profitability. Scotland is too small a player in the global food and drink industry and to have a bigger part we have to co-operate and collaborate." The strategy now has a firm identity in the Scottish Food & Drink device introduced in January. It unifies the stream of projects, launched in the last year by SE and the industry groups targeting the various goals. "The momentum is building up and we're beginning to make phenomenal strides," says Tait. "We have a good balance between short and long-term projects and have ensured there's a number of quick wins so everyone can see the benefits starting to happen." Tait counts among the quick wins the launch last month of Food Facts, a telephone information service that will attempt to answer any business query about food and drink. "It's based on a similar scheme in the Grampian area which has been very effective. We're rolling it out to the rest of the country," says Tait. The service is the first part of a much bigger project, a consumer market intelligence centre now being established on the internet which will be fully operational early next year. "It'll be linked to our main web site,, and will help small companies who don't have the resources to have their own marketing departments. "Information is becoming a key competitive advantage, particularly at the niche market edge, so providing this kind of help is essential. It'll provide guidance on such things as how to write a marketing plan or how to approach a multiple," says Tait. In the same vein is Market Advantage, a new series of workshops running into next year which aims to develop basic marketing skills as well as providing an insight into more sophisticated elements such as ECR and category management. "We're tackling the main pain points and doing best practice visits, identified as being the most needed by our pilot workshops ," says Tait. Many of the projects are geared to providing varying sorts of help and advice to smaller businesses. Earlier this year, SE launched Food Business Mentoring Scotland, a mentoring scheme based on the IGD model in which large businesses provide free practical advice to small firms in non-competing sectors. The scheme aims to create 12 partnerships over 15 months. So far five companies have signed up to get support and are waiting for partners. Skills development and shortages are big issues, with a number of projects providing guidance on food business qualifications, leadership training and promoting food industry careers in schools. A Food Learning Network bringing together colleges, universities and the food industry is being established to tackle skills provision. It will provide access to the latest learning facilities, a human resource consultancy, and an e-business learning programme. "A key issue is how to attract ambitious people into the industry which isn't an industry of choice for young people at the moment," says Tait. Creating a climate for innovation and new product development, another strategy target, is being tackled through a variety of initiatives. A joint venture between the Scottish Agriculture College and the Hannah Research Institute is close to completion which will result in a more integrated approach to research. A venture capital scheme to fund fledgling developments is being explored. Tait is particularly excited by the response to two seminars on functional foods last year which stimulated a huge amount of interest in the subject. "We expected 30 companies, but got over 200. We now have a core group working on ways to exploit this market. This area holds a lot of potential for Scottish companies because many of our products are health enhancing ­ oatcakes is a good example ­ but are not sold as such." {{Z SUPPLEMENTS }}