"Wales is one of the best performing countries within the European food retail market with over six percent growth in food and drink sales last year. Agriculture, fishing and food manufacturing combined have an annual turnover in excess of £5.2 billion. The story is a good one but there’s more that can be done.
My vision is that by 2020 the quality of Welsh food will enjoy increased international recognition, food businesses will be more efficient and environmentally balanced with supply chains more integrated and will be adding far more value to our products here in Wales. Consumers will be making well informed choices about the affordable and healthy food they need, leading to significant improvement in public health. My proposal is to deliver this growth through market development, job creation, increased sales turnover and improved GVA for Wales. Our food sector has many advantages including high quality raw materials and natural grass-based farming systems. But there are weaknesses, including the need to develop the domestic market, and to have a more integrated supply chain which both adds value and increases the contribution of this sector to the wider Welsh economy.
I see an urgent need to establish a Welsh Food and Drink Forum or Federation of people drawn from across the industry to provide strong leadership, vision and much closer working between government and business.
My strategy will consist of targeted actions to deliver sustainable jobs and growth for Wales that are both economically and environmentally sound. I propose building the strategy across seven key areas, allowing Wales the opportunity to position itself as a leader in the field.Firstly I want to promote market development and growth. Both the domestic and export markets have scope for more development. Better market information will be needed to identify the best opportunities for business and to make the right choices.
Before the summer recess I outlined my plans for the future branding of food and drink from Wales. This will need to serve domestic and export market needs as well as being vibrant enough to attract inward investment.
We tested the ‘Food and Drink Wales’ identity this year with a clear Welsh identity which has been well received by the trade. The consultation will be asking for views on further development of the new identity as well as how to strengthen and sustain it.
Export markets are rewarding but challenging. Establishing product recognition in new and competitive markets is not easy. Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef enjoy the prestige associated with the EU’s Protected Food Name designation, and other products can follow a similar route. New markets including Russia and China are showing keen interest in Welsh Lamb and we will focus our effort on securing export health certification to open the door.
We must work much more closely with the largest food and drink businesses in Wales to understand their intentions and the potential for growth. SMEs and micro-businesses dominate our food sector and are important at local, national and international levels. Their speciality products enhance Wales’ reputation for quality food. We propose to improve awareness of the business support available to encourage growth. Foreign Direct Investment is an area where I want to make Wales the first choice for international food companies to locate their manufacturing and value added processing.
The second area I want to address is food culture, heritage and tourism. The Welsh Government’s strategy for tourism highlights the importance of quality local food and drink. About half of our food businesses supply the tourism sector but supply routes can be complex. We must provide support and guidance and get better at communicating what we do well. We should all take pride in presenting Wales and Welsh food to the world.
The third area is green growth. The challenge for the food industry is to grow significantly while reducing its environmental footprint, through achieving resource efficiencies in energy, water and waste management. Food sector roadmaps and the Towards Zero Waste strategy will help businesses to become more competitive by using fewer resources, saving money and offering better balanced products. In the consultation I will ask how we can use support measures, including the next Rural Development Plan, to ensure that this positive action is an integral part of capital investment.
The fourth area is supply chain efficiency. Businesses cite increasing costs, access to finance and distribution as significant constraints. More innovation will add value, drive efficiency and create jobs and we must use all financial instruments to best advantage.
The fifth area will tackle the need for a more integrated food industry. Integrated supply chains, from farmer through to consumer, deliver fairer prices, improve communications, enhance quality and build trust. The proposed Food & Drink Federation could provide a lead on creating effective networks, for example on skills, training and entrepreneurship; on innovation; or for export marketing.Food assurance and resilience is another key area to address. I want to build on the good practice we established with partners and Government across the UK but I believe we can go further. I want to develop a food security and industry assurance network to improve our preparedness for incidents, and our resilience when problems occur.
The final area I want to address is health and wellbeing. Access to quality food at affordable prices is vital for us all. We all need a healthy, well balanced diet. I am working with cabinet colleagues to address these issues. Tackling poverty is this government’s highest priority. We need innovative thinking, and must build on successful initiatives like community growing and food co-ops to lessen the need for food banks. We need to ensure that people can make informed choices to support improved nutrition and healthy living. Working with the industry on product development and improving communications on healthy eating will be the key to addressing this.
I want to take forward and lead this debate over the coming months and will be publishing a route map to set out my proposed actions and timescale. I want to lead a discussion throughout Wales and will be speaking to industry and other stakeholders to create a rich and vibrant debate about food in our society. I have briefly outlined my proposals to deliver sustainable jobs, green growth, improved health and wellbeing.
The strategy will set the vision for both government and industry ensuring that both are accountable for delivering results. I will be setting out the proposed targets and milestones in the consultation and will welcome widespread debate. I want the food industry, stakeholders and Government to work together to achieve results and I am confident that together we can set our sights high and reach beyond our expectations. "
Alun Davies AM, Minister for Natural Resources and Food