The reputation of Scotland's Highlands and Islands for fresh air, clean water and healthy lifestyles has never been more valuable to the food and drink sector than in the 21st century. The rapidly increasing awareness among consumers of the importance of a good diet, and a willingness to pay a premium for quality produce, are playing a role in the way the region's producers are planning their activities.

The sector generates sales of more than £600m per annum and is the area's largest export, with overseas sales of more than £115m, largely to markets in Western Europe. The health agenda is definitely a quantifiable aspect of consumer habits, as the recent interest in oats and Omega-3 fish oil shows, and there is great enthusiasm here to specialise in high-quality, health-enhancing produce. Buying trends show that the public is looking to shop for goods with some provenance - a tale about where the product came from and what ingredients were used.

This region has a great many small producers, many of whom are starting to see the benefit of their own labelling, who provide this sort of quality produce. And this attention to product quality and presentation is paying dividends, with the region attracting keen interest, not just from specialist stores, but also from supermarket chains keen to stock premium brands. The Highlands and Islands have a natural advantage in serving the current consumer appetite, and we are working hard on our marketing and on tackling the challenge of distribution from some of our remote suppliers to ensure that retailers and the public get every opportunity to experience the unique flavour of this region.n