The Food Manufacturers Business Leaders Forum

The Food Manufacturers Business Leaders Forum was illuminating yesterday. Being at the helm of a Food Manufacturing company over the last 3 years has been challenging. But as they say, “A fair wind never made a skilled sailor”. The dialogue was vibrant, and wide ranging. We are passionate in what we do, and the Forum showed this.

Bethan Grylls from Food Manufacture did a great job as host.

I made some notes.

There are huge challenges for UK Food Manufacturers, but also there are large opportunities.

UK Food Manufacturers are knowledgeable, resourceful, resilient, and flexible. They and the food they produce deserve respect.

We are seeing new trends emerging, customers are looking for simple familiar good value food. The days of retailers stocking multiple products with minimal differentiation are past, as are unnecessarily complicated products. Unpredictable supply chains and fickle customers are reducing the amount of NPD.  The need for collaboration throughout the supply chain from farm to fork is not only common sense but it is vital.  We need to use the science and data history to control standards, demonstrate sustainability, reduce waste, and enable suppliers to have the confidence to invest and innovate. In the past the churn rate of UK retailers meant manufacturers lacked the confidence to invest in automation and improve productivity. Automation is best suited to standard process and is generally not flexible.

The threat of Food Fraud remains high, there is evidence of organised crime being involved in UK supply chains, this will increase as long as the potential high rewards and low risks continue. New ingredients such as plant-based elements require rigorous testing to avoid risking food safety. The FSA are struggling with a workload that was shared with EU partners prior to Brexit, as a result novel ingredients are being restricted by lengthy delays in gaining approvals. Mycotoxins are an unknown challenge, and a concern in the food industry. Cybercrime, such as proxy payment, and ransomware is a threat we all need to consider.

Sustainability and the risk posed by climate change to supply chains was a common theme; it was suggested that we needed system change not tinkering with the edges. It was even suggested that rationing was introduced and that home produced seasonal produce was promoted and that Avocados and similar products made taboo. Is this a Government issue or an educational issue? Climate change is happening now, and we need action not angst. I was delighted to hear discussion on the degrading of land and importance of soil.

Recruiting young people into this vibrant sector is key, but also, we need to encourage experienced managers to share their knowledge and skills. We discussed apprenticeships, and the ways we can recognise and value our staff, and so win their long-term commitment and service.

Many delegates were able to illustrate that their companies were doing more with less and coming up their own answers rather than looking for sector or government support. Using current resources better. In short “waste not, want not”.

The Forum explored many subjects, but a reoccurring theme was that often the answers were there in plain sight. We need managers who make good early decisions – good leaders.

It takes many hours of remote working to beat regular “management by walking about”.