As the year comes to a close, Food Management Today asks experts across the food industry what they expect the key happenings to be in 2018.
Trade and access to labour
Ian Wright CBE, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, pointed out that 2018 will be a “challenging” and “crucial” year, referring both to Brexit and the launch of Government’s Food and Drink Sector Council.
“Over the next ten months we reach the business end of the Brexit process. There is a mountain of work ahead. We must secure a status quo transition period and a comprehensive trade deal with the EU which protects the benefits and ease of trading we currently enjoy.
“In addition to Brexit negotiations, industry will face huge pressure from the public health agenda. In early 2018, I hope to see the launch of Government’s Food and Drink Sector Council and we will be finessing details of an industrial strategy sector deal for food and drink manufacturers to seize advantage of post-Brexit opportunities. It will be a challenging year: I hope the ‘farm-to-fork’ industry will continue to work closely together to leverage our scale and economic importance and deliver for UK shoppers.”
The Provision Trade Federation’s director general, Andrew Kuyk CBE, highlighted that 2018 is “clearly going to be a pivotal year for the UK’s future relationship with the EU”.
However, he added: “Many of our members are already feeling the effects of weaker sterling and labour shortages, coupled with relentless pressure on prices at a time of low wage growth and rising inflation for many consumers.
“Extreme challenge is fast becoming the new normal for our industry, as we also strive to offer healthier and more sustainable choices, while still delivering exceptional quality and value. We should all be proud of our great companies and their great products, especially in these most testing times.”
Bill Jermey, chief executive of Food & Drink Training & Education Council, appeared cautious as to whether 2018 will be the year that implementation of The Skills Plan succeeds. He pointed out: “Frankly I have my doubts that it will. The principles are excellent and some sectors have started well and will do well.
“However the implementation of the apprenticeship levy has had an entirely predictable, and avoidable, outcome. Currently the overall apprentice numbers are down but the spending is up, because employers are using levy money to pay for higher level apprenticeships. Even MBAs have been turned into apprenticeships – how can that be right?
“In the food industry in particular, apprenticeships should be upskilling the roots of the workforce.”
The British Meat Processors Association’s (BMPA) chief executive, Nick Allen, is foreseeing a Brexit-full 2018, with a number of issues that the Government will still have to resolve.
He commented: “2018 will be completely dominated by Brexit and all that goes with it. We are expecting a busy year trying to make sure that when March 2019 comes, and we officially leave the EU, Government has got everything in place to make sure that the meat industry can function, and keep the fantastic product we produce in this country on the plates of consumers here and abroad.
“Also in 2018 the debate will start in earnest about what the future UK agriculture food policy will look like. Something we have not had to write for ourselves for over 40 years. What the future agriculture policy looks like will influence everyone’s lives and futures regardless of which sector they are in. It will be an exciting year and at BMPA we intend to play our part in shaping the future.”
Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council (BPC), highlighted that BPC will focus on ensuring that “British poultry meat’s success continues for decades to come”.
He noted: “As we look ahead at 2018, our sector stands committed to bolster the heart of Britain’s food supply. We are going to work with the Government to harness our productivity, drive efficiency and strengthen our supply chains.
“In the new year, we will focus on securing continued access to EU markets for trade and increase our competitiveness at home and abroad by opening third country markets. From increasing our productivity, attracting and nurturing our talent, to ensuring that we have access to non-UK labour in areas where UK labour simply isn’t available; we will do everything we can to ensure that British poultry meat’s success continues for decades to come.”