The challenge here actually is that too few companies export says DEFRA deputy director for food policy, competitiveness and growth Tim Render

The challenge here actually is that too few companies export says DEFRA deputy director for food policy, competitiveness and growth Tim Render

just-food was at the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum Keynote Seminar on priorities for growth in the UK food and drink industry. Challenges in export markets, finding the right employees and sustainability issues were all explored in detail. Here are some of the highlights in quotes.

Sustainability

"Food and drink is the UK's largest manufacturing sector and is vital to the country's economy" - John Stevenson MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Food and Drink Manufacturing Group.

"Food security linked to sustainability and the challenges of climate change, water scarcity are perhaps some of the key social and political challenges we face in the 21st century" - Mark Driscoll, head of food, Forum for the Future.

Export

"Despite often tough market conditions at home we are growing at a phenomenal rate abroad. It's great to see our recently released figures exports grew 5% to GBP12.8bn (US$21.5bn) last year with really impressive growth in non-EU markets including a massive 82% increase in exports to China and double digit growth in markets such as Australia, Hong Kong, South Africa and Saudi Arabia helped to drive an 11.5% increase outside Europe" - Melanie Leech, director general, Food and Drink Federation.

"Every food company I know wants to grow from being a local supplier to a national supplier to an international supplier and ideally to a global supplier - local and global are really two sides of one coin and, in the case of our own economic development agency Invest NI, 'think locally, act globally' is their slogan and I think it's a useful aid memoir" - Michael Bell , executive director, Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association.

"The challenge here actually is that too few companies export. In the UK, one in five export. In France and Germany it's one in four. For SMEs in the food and drink sector it's one in ten. Lots of scope there, it needs support. It needs to raise ambition. We all need to be pushing that" - Tim Render, deputy director for Food Policy, Competitiveness and Growth, DEFRA.

Recruitment

"Not only have we a challenge to bring the right, well-qualified people into the sector but we are also competing against other engineering sectors and I have to say generally if people are thinking about engineering, they are thinking about other sectors not food and drink manufacture" - Dr Martin Howarth, director of National Centre of Food Engineering, Sheffield Hallam University

"'Boring', 'repetitive', 'for people with no qualifications' - these aren't my words to describe the food and drink industry - these are the words of over 900 young people who we interviewed to find out their perception of our industry. The vibrant dynamic industry that we've been talking about all morning is viewed by many people as an industry they wouldn't specifically choose to enter" - Justine Fosh, CEO, Improve and the National Skills Academy for Food & Drink.

Stakeholders

"I believe in the last 10-15 years actually, particularly government, has singularly failed to take a more strategic approach to food. We need cross-departmental comprehensive food and farming strategy which focuses on those key food security challenges and the UK's role in an international context and to be honest I've been quite disappointed in the level of urgency and ambition in tackling these challenges" - Mark Driscoll, head of food, Forum for the Future.

"I think it's businesses that are the real innovators and leaders in this agenda and there are real leadership and business leaders here for instance driving the post-millennium development goal process which is looking at addressing those challenges" - Mark Driscoll, head of food, Forum for the Future.

"For the UK and European markets there is increasing interest for consumers in those sourcing questions in the social and environmental standards that are being used - getting that right in the European context is establishing those best practises for emerging markets as consumers there move into thinking about these issues too" -  Tim Render, deputy director for Food Policy, Competitiveness and Growth, DEFRA.