Food industry's migrant worker worries spelled out in major report launched in Westminster

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 14 Jul 2017

A HIGH-level report on the food industry has highlighted key growth opportunities for what is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, while spelling out immigration and career attraction issues previously highlighted in ‘Europe’s Food Town’.

The Food and Drink Federation commissioned Grant Thornton to go in-depth into the sector. 

It explores the obstacles the industry faces, the unique geographical spread of the sector and its importance to the wider UK economy.

Findings also reveal the extent to which exiting the EU may threaten the industry’s future productivity should the sector not receive further support from the Government to help manage the transition. 

Seven key recommendations have now been revealed.

Ian Wright CBE, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, the national voice of UK manufacturers and an organisation in which Grimsby’s two biggest food producers – Icelandic Seachill and Young’s Seafood play a leading role – said: “This detailed report charts the future shape of our industry for many years to come. 

“It is a welcome assessment of the significant opportunities available to boost the productivity of the food and drink industry at a time of great economic uncertainty.

“The issues facing the food and drink industry are complex, but if we find the right solutions there is great reward  – not just for our sector and the wider economy. 

“We believe a new sector deal, working in partnership with Government and the ‘farm-to-fork’ supply chain, will harness this potential.”

The report’s key recommendations for Government include:

  • Work with education providers across the UK to increase availability of food and drink manufacturing specific apprenticeship training
  • Enhance the image of the food and drink industry and raise awareness of the range of career opportunities on offer – something Seafish is actively involved with in the seafood sector
  • Prioritise food and drink as the UK’s largest manufacturing industry in relation to any new immigration policy – an issue  highlighted by Seafood Grimsby & Humber
  • Work with industry to reduce product sugar levels and take an holistic approach to calorie reformulation
  • Further facilitate innovation through support for fundamental and applied research.
  • Encourage more food and drink manufacturers to export to help grow the UK’s 2.2 per cent share of the global food and drink export market.
  • Work in partnership with industry to scale-up its provision of specialist export support for food and drink and identify distributors in untapped markets.

Gavin Darby, president of Food and Drink Federation, and chief executive of Premier Foods, said: “Our industry is critical to national security and the prosperity of our wider economy. 

“We have a well-earned global reputation for provenance, quality and innovation.

“The challenges we face in the next few years are unparalleled. The market environment in which we operate remains uncertain. We are a resilient and adaptable industry – we know there are huge opportunities available to our sector so we can sell more great British food and drink.

“ Therefore, it is key that we identify how best to harness our own growth potential and improve productivity.”

FDF’s key findings from report:

Skills: There is still great uncertainty regarding future access to EU workers, who are highly-valued and make up 32.5 per cent of the industry’s workforce.
Despite misconceptions, there is an even mix of skills within the sector – less than 9 per cent of roles are low-skilled. With 40,000 of the industry’s workforce expected to retire in the next ten years, 140,000 new workers are required by 2024.

Trade: Between 2006 and 2015 global food exports had a combined annual growth rate of 7 per cent. During the same period UK food and drink exports grew by 4 per cent.
EU nations Ireland, France, Holland and Germany were noted as key trading partners and the EEA remains the market with the greatest perceived potential. China, India and the UAE are seen as the top three markets that businesses would like to target.

Innovation: 89 per cent are involved in new product development with many manufacturers engaged in long-term calorie reduction programmes. Nearly half are involved in collaboration with higher education or research initiatives.

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