As we near the end of another tumultuous year, it is only right and proper that we take time to remember those family, friends, and associates who have left us because of this wretched pandemic. It is sobering to reflect that over 5.23 million people have now died from Covid across the world, and many continue to suffer symptoms daily.
However, the impact of the Pandemic has been far more reaching than its effect on human health. All aspects of the way we live, work, and relax continue to be affected and I am mindful of the fact that, when combined with the effects of Brexit, many businesses in the food chain continue to be significantly affected.
Talking to many businesses over recent months, I know how hard it has been to keep the show on the road, with significant labour shortages being a real pinch point. Labour levels have affected many businesses and I appreciate the impact it must be having on business owners, staff, finances and indeed future strategic plans. Thank you for what you all continue to do for our amazing industry!
Ever the optimist, I am confident that the future is bright for the Welsh Food & Drink Industry. This enthusiasm isn’t based on blind optimism, it’s based on the facts that we continue to grow in scale, influence and sophistication. We have all the ingredients to succeed: great relationships, great innovation, great products and above all, great people.
Nowhere better could this be seen but at BlasCymru/TasteWales which was held on 27th – 28th October 2021 at the International Convention Centre Wales. Over 100 sellers and 200 buyers attended from food service and hospitality, to retail and the public sector. It was our chance to showcase an incredibly dynamic and varied food and drink industry, with businesses ranging from micro artisans to larger food companies which we achieved with pride. It was a spectacular success with more than 1500 meetings taking place over the two days so I hope it’s something we can repeat in the near future.
As we enter 2022, our industry continues on its record-breaking growth trajectory. I am encouraged to see Welsh Government setting an expectation to continue our growth to £8.5 billion by 2025 in their recently launched vision for the Food & Drink Sector. Whilst this growth will continue to focus on the UK market largely as a result of Brexit and shortening global supply chains, I would love to see Welsh Food & Drink exports expanding to take advantage of the new trading world. We only export around 7% of our Food & Drink turnover in Wales and with the UK negotiating more and more trade deals we need to understand and leverage where Wales has competitive advantage in the global market. Importantly, we need to clearly articulate not just where we want to defend our interests but we also need to explain and quantify where the opportunities lie to those negotiating trade deals on our behalf.
So, what is the role of the Food & Drink Board in driving our future success? Our role is strategic:
to provide an independent voice, insight and oversight to Welsh government; to act as a two-way strategic conduit between government and industry; and to address the strategic challenges requested by the Minister. We are here to support industry, the enablers and to advise The Minister, her Executive.
As a Board we have thought long and hard about our strategy for 2022 and have agreed with the Minister to focus on key issues including people and skills, sustainability, the developing Community Food Strategy and influencing everywhere and anywhere to advance Welsh interests.
We certainly have something special in Wales, with food and drink as one of our biggest assets and opportunities. I remain convinced that our collaborative spirit in Wales will see us through these difficult and challenging times and the Board will do all we can to maintain and develop this ethos through 2022.
I would like to sign off by thanking all of those in the industry who have worked tirelessly this year to keep the nation fed and their businesses afloat under the current challenging business environment. We will continue to do all we can to support and advocate for you in 2022.
Andy Richardson, Chair of the Food and Drink Wales Industry Board