If You Read One Thing…
With the branding of Scotland’s wonderful food and drink under threat, there’s quite a lot to beef about
Make sure it’s our exclusive article on Scottish producers fighting to protect Brand Scotland page44
SCOTLAND’S food and drink sector is one of the success stories of the last 30 years. Thanks to a worldwide reputation for excellence – and a strong emphasis on Scottish branding – it is now worth over £14.4 billion a year.
Food and drink proudly proclaiming it was grown, reared, harvested, caught, distilled or simply “made” in Scotland is enjoyed all over the world, boosting the country’s economy, enhancing our reputation for producing high quality food and drink and attracting a growing number of “foodie” tourists, keen to experience the true flavours of Scotland.
However, over the last few years, some retailers have branded Scottish produce as British – or replaced Saltires with the Union Flag. Last summer, Ruth Watson from Kirriemuir in Angus was so concerned by the sight of carrots grown in the fields near her home being branded British rather than Scottish in her local supermarket, she set up the “Keep Scotland The Brand” campaign.
“It began as a single post on Facebook about carrots,” says Ruth, who was a journalist before becoming a full-time mum. “When this post attracted over 30,000 hits, I realised I wasn’t the only one who was annoyed by strawberries from Kincardineshire with Union Flags on the packaging, Scotch being described as ‘British’ whisky on a supermarket website and, in an airport in Australia, the ‘Great British Haggis’!
“Scotland’s name is synonymous with quality. Our farmers and food and drink producers adhere to extremely high standards and work really hard to maintain those standards but that’s not the only reason Scottish branding means so much.
“In the export industry, branding produce as ‘Scottish’ conjures up images of stunning hills, green fields, sparkling rivers, tartan, even Outlander! An Outlander fan on the other side of the world may be eating roast Scottish potatoes with the image of a Jamie Fraser lookalike picking tatties in their mind – it’s all good for business!
“Yet, in my experience, Scottish produce is disappearing under a blanket of British flags. The brand
identity our farmers and food producers has achieved is being eroded and will mean loss of market share, tourists and revenue. Our rural communities will be hit hard.”
Since Ruth set up her campaign, she’s been swamped with support and now has a grassroots following helping her spread the word. “Our Facebook page has almost 2000 followers and we have delivered leaflets to homes all over Scotland, as well as handing them out at marts and agricultural shows, and talking at meetings.
“This isn’t a party political campaign – it’s about the economy of our country,” continues Ruth, who also stresses that Keep Scotland The Brand isn’t about boycotting. “If you see a supermarket who could be doing more to support Scotland’s branding, take a photo of the labelling in question and contact the supermarket, telling them why it’s is important to keep Scotland The Brand.
“And the sweeping tide of ‘British’ branding isn’t just a Scottish issue,” continues Ruth. “There are people in Cornwall fighting for the right for their local produce to be clearly labelled as such, the importance of having the Welsh dragon on produce was recently raised in the National Assembly of Wales, Somerset farmers have been in touch with me because they’re worried about the loss of their identity. Local provenance – and local branding – is good for sales, at home and abroad.”
Andrew Mccornick, NFU Scotland President, is equally passionate about the importance of the issue. “Scottish farmers, crofters and growers are proud of the hard work and dedication they put into producing the high quality food and drink we see on our shelves day in day out,” says Andrew. “It’s a great boost to see Scottish produce properly labelled and branded and this is something we need to work hard to protect.”
Yet, although some supermarkets appear to be going for a blanket “Uk-brand”, others have a policy of working with local suppliers. “Sourcing Scottish products for our stores in Scotland is a priority,” says Paul Mcquade, Lidl’s head of regional buying for Scotland.
“Scotland benefits from a fantastic, quality larder and we already work with over 60 Scottish suppliers. This ensures we’re not only supporting the local economy and local producers but that we keep our transport costs low and offer the freshest possible products.”
Graeme Dey MSP chairs the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee and he explains that strict environmental regulations also help to ensure Scottish-branded produce is highly sought after. “Scotland has a reputation for high quality food and drink production delivered to high levels of environmental standards,” Graeme says.
“For example, when I buy strawberries from soft fruit producers in Angus, I know these are local businesses
“We need to ensure that Scotland’s worldwide reputation for excellence continues to be promoted”
that really care about the environment and have invested a lot of money creating bee habitats and developing methods of minimising pesticide use. We should be very proud of the food we produce and have it branded clearly as Scottish.”
However, “Union-jackery”, as one newspaper calls it, isn’t the only threat to Scotland’s food and drink industry.
With Brexit looming, there are serious concerns about what will happen when the UK leaves the EU and how new trade agreements may affect the economy in general. “We’re currently seeing a great deal of confusion about where Brexit will take the UK and Scotland,” says Pete Wishart, MP and chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee’s Scotland and Brexit: Trade and Foreign Investment inquiry, which is investigating Scotland’s role in the UK’S post-brexit trade arrangements.
“We need to ensure that Scotland’s worldwide reputation for excellence continues to be promoted and developed – and that opportunities for trade are maximised and our reputation for first class food and drink continues to develop and be enhanced. From Scotch whisky to Scottish wild salmon to Scotch beef – people value Scotland’s food and drink and we need to make sure Brexit presents no risk or detriment to this.”
With the British Government facing the prospect of negotiating at least 86 separate trade agreements with individual European countries when the UK leaves the EU, as well as with the USA, Australia, China and others, Graeme Dey adds there are also concerns that some of these deals will lead to demands for a diminishing of Scotland’s high standards for food and drink production.
“This potentially poses a serious threat to our food and drink sector,” he says. “Scotland’s produce is marketed as being of a high value and of having high standards. Consumers of Scottish produce are happy to pay a little more because they’re buying something which has been produced environmentally responsibly and often on a relatively small, local scale but there is a risk that new trade agreements may erode this.”
Brexit also poses a very real risk that products in the UK will lose vital Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, meaning unique products such as Arbroath smokies, Stornoway black pudding and even Scotch whisky could be made anywhere in the world.
“It’s important that our food names are protected following Brexit,” stresses Andrew Mccornick.
Scotch Beef and Lamb were among the first meats to achieve PGI status. Alan Clarke, chief executive of Quality Meat Scotland, says, “Quality Meat Scotland has worked hard, alongside the Scottish red meat industry, to develop the Scotch Beef PGI and Scotch Lamb PGI brands.
“Scotch Beef PGI and Scotch Lamb PGI labels offer consumers confidence that the meat they buy has come from animals that have spent their whole lives being raised to some of the world’s strictest welfare standards.”
Although PGI has still to be discussed at the Brexit negotiations, Pete Wishart agrees this globally-recognised status is very important. “In Scotland, we have a number of brands that are protected and recognised by PGI. We need to be reassured that everything possible is being done to ensure PGI continues and that these wonderful, unique products continue to be recognised as Scottish.”
The battle to protect Scotland The Brand is only just beginning. For more information about Keep Scotland The Brand, visit www.facebook.com/keepscotbrand
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Ruth Watson kicked off the campaign
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