Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs
Today, we are welcoming the global food and drink industry to Wales for BlasCymru/TasteWales - our first ever national and international trade event and conference for the food and drink industry in Wales.
The event, which is taking place in the impressive surroundings of the Celtic Manor Resort, has attracted 400 delegates, including some of the finest exponents of our food and drink industry. With over 100 Welsh companies in attendance; together with our Universities and innovation centres showcasing cutting edge technological advances being made in Wales in the world of food technology; as well as the wealth of business support services on offer to the industry here in Wales - the event showcases the clear strength and quality of our growing and thriving industry.
We are extremely proud of our high-quality food and drink and recognise the enormous value it brings to our economy. The industry is rightly a priority sector for our Government, and our ambitious Action Plan ‘Towards Sustainable Growth’ sets a clear roadmap, working in partnership with industry through our Food and Drink Wales Industry Board, to grow the sector by 30% by 2020.
Our industry enjoyed a successful year in 2016 having progressed more than half way towards meeting our growth target. Food and drink exports from Wales have increased by 95% over the past decade and we are keen to see this continue. There are challenging times ahead as we navigate a future outside of the EU, particularly given almost 90% of our food and drink exports currently go to the EU. The challenges are obvious, but we must now take the opportunity to consolidate these markets and develop new ones outside the EU.
It has never been more important to raise Wales’ international profile and proactively sell our quality food and drink produce to the world. I am delighted therefore that over 150 trade buyers are participating in BlasCymru/TasteWales, including from key markets (including USA, Canada, China, Sweden, France, Italy, UAE, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Oman, Japan, and Denmark).
Our event also provides a strong platform to showcase Wales as a premier destination for inward investment. This will be even more crucial in the coming years and we want to build on our recent record levels of inward investment secured, with investment by foreign owned companies in the food and drink industry creating and safeguarding more than a thousand jobs in Wales in the last two years.
In order to continue to compete on the international stage, it is vital that our industry is at the cutting edge of the latest innovations. Welsh Government therefore announced today at BlasCymru/TasteWales a major new investment of £21m in food and drink innovation through a new initiative funded under the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme, called Project HELIX.
This project will be delivered by Food Innovation Wales over the next five years. It will take us to the next step in reinforcing our food and drink industry as globally recognised for quality, creativity and being highly skilled. It includes support for fast-tracking new innovative products and food company start-ups; assisting businesses to reduce waste during food processing thereby securing cost savings and waste reduction; and supporting advanced skills in key areas such as food technology. Project Helix has been developed by listening to the industry and to provide business led solutions. It is expected to generate over £100m for the Welsh economy and create and safeguard thousands of jobs.
We also announced today that in May we will open another window for applications for support under our Food Business Investment Scheme (FBIS) of £2 million for micro, small and medium sized food and drink companies which are at the heart of innovation and growth in the future. We are also strengthening our existing business clusters, which have created a network across various food and drink sub sectors to improve best practice, share ideas and develop businesses together, with the launch of a new Drinks cluster. We are also holding a National Food and Drink Wales Skills Conference in September to ensure that businesses are fully equipped to find the right training partners and other skills support.
We are focussed on doing more to support the development of healthy food and drink, particularly for children. Today we invited businesses and organisations across the industry to submit proposals to develop innovative solutions to improve the nutritional composition of school meals, whilst driving down cost. This new initiative, through the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI), enables businesses and organisations to compete for a share of up to £1 million to tackle one of the greatest challenges of all – improving the diets of our children today, to enable them to become the healthy young adults of tomorrow.
We are proud that Wales is a world leader in sustainability and have made clear our intention to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050. We will continue to ensure our economic growth ensures the careful use of our natural resources so they can continue to sustain us for the benefit of all people in Wales. At BlasCymru/TasteWales today, we presented our new prospectus for Green Growth in the food and drink industry. The prospectus showcases businesses which have taken positive steps to grow in a sustainable way and encourages efficient resource use and waste reduction, which are win-wins - good for the environment and good for delivering more profitable businesses.
Overall, BlasCymru/TasteWales has provided a strong platform to deliver a range of measures to strengthen and future-proof the food and drink industry in Wales to meet the challenges and opportunities for the industry as a result of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. It demonstrates our clear determination to ensure we continue to collectively promote and showcase the very best that the Welsh food and drink industry has to offer; further raise the profile and reputation of Welsh food and drink on the world stage; and, ensure that Wales remains an outward and welcoming nation, which is open for business.