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The Welsh food and drink sector has grown by thirty percent in six years

The Food and Drink Wales Industry Board have put on the first sustainable scale-up conference to encourage more growth

Sustainable Scale-Up 2019 is the first of its kind in Wales, welcoming food and drink businesses and investors to discuss how they can successfully grow in the industry.

The first sustainable scale-up conference was organised by the Food and Drink Wales Industry Board to assist businesses in the food and drink sector plan and successfully execute their growth journey.

The event, held at the Saint David’s Hotel in Cardiff Bay, brought together productivity experts, investors and advisors to inform food and drink businesses on how they can sustainably develop operations, products and profit through talks, panel discussions and one-on-one workshops. 

In 2014, the Welsh Government established a food and drink action plan with the aim to grow the sector by 30% before 2020. While they are currently on track to meet this goal, conferences like Sustainable Scale-Up are being organised for the benefit of the food and drink industry, ensuring that the government exceeds this growth goal. 

The food and drink industry is a key player in the economy of Wales, employing more than 240,000 people with an annual turnover of £20.5bn in 2018.

Andy Richardson, chairman of the Food and Drink Wales Industry Board, said in his opening speech, “I am passionate about the food and drink sector in Wales.

“I do believe that businesses who invest in innovation, people and capability will be the ones that succeed in the future.”

He continued, stating that the purpose of Sustainable Scale-Up 2019 was for food and drink businesses to leave feeling inspired with the tools, insight and connections to successfully invest in their growth.

The event had panel discussions from leaders in the food and drink sector, including a talk from Asher Flowers, the creator of Rogue Preserves.

The day-long conference also highlighted the success of Investor Ready, a programme that aims to help food and drink businesses prepare for commercial investment and achieve their growth ambitions. This was started two years ago as a result of the Food and Drink Wales Industry Board realising that finance and growth needed more attention within the sector, particularly for smaller independent food and drink businesses.  

Alun Lewis, head of Investor Ready, said the programme was prepared to help and listen to businesses of any size. 

“We are people that have been in the industry; been there, done that and got several t-shirts,” he joked. “We are here to help anyone, from small businesses to large businesses.”

He also explained that there isn’t a definitive answer to what the right speed is for food and drink businesses to scale up as all are different.

The conference was sustainably-minded, serving locally sourced food, providing eco-friendly name tags and using scannable codes in lieu of printouts.

Maxine Adams, head of business growth for Innovate UK, said, “This conference is a testament to the potential that Wales offers.

“Our job isn’t to provide the passion because you have it in spades,” she said, addressing the food and drink business owners present. “Our job is to offer the infrastructure and advice to grow.”

For food and drink businesses based in Wales, the Sustainable Scale-Up Conference proved that there are opportunities to grow regardless of size; it’s about careful planning and learning what tools and resources are available in the industry.

Andy Richardson finished the conference by saying that steady growth in the food and drink sector in Wales was far better than exponential industry growth that then crashes.

“I think we have to grow as a food and drink sector. It’s about understanding what [food and drink] businesses have to do to grow in a way that won’t compromise their future ability to do so,” he said. “I want people to understand how to go about it; what the baby steps are to do that.”

Words: Sorcha Hornett, Chelsea Davies, Andrea Gaini and Maude Agombar.

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