Annual Review 2008: A strategic vision for food
Ross Warburton, FDF President
What a difference a year makes. When
we published our last annual review in
April 2008, the economic storm clouds
were gathering on the horizon – but the
biggest global concern was arguably
rocketing food and commodity prices.
Today, the volatility in commodity, energy
and packaging prices remains a genuine
concern for food and drink manufacturers.
We have also been forced to cope with an
economic situation that has rightly been
likened to riding a roller coaster.
The squeeze on credit caused by the
meltdown of the banking sector has
created genuine problems for our sector
– particularly for the smaller companies
in our membership. The weakening of the
pound against key currencies such as
the Euro is creating further headaches for
hard-pressed manufacturers. And all these
developments are taking place against a
backdrop of economic slowdown, falling
consumer confidence and an increasingly
That has forced all of us in business to
rethink what we are doing; redefine our
goals; and reset our corporate targets.
Nobody can ignore what is happening.
That's why my priority as President of
FDF is ensuring this organisation has a
clear focus on how we deliver the best
possible value to our member companies.
It's important we demonstrate how FDF
can make a difference to our members'
businesses through its advocacy work, by
protecting the sector's interests and by
promoting the positive contribution made
A key strength of FDF is its ability to
harness the collective efforts of our
members to make a real difference for
society, focusing on our three priority
areas of food safety and science, health
and wellbeing and sustainability and
We have always said that the priority for
Government should be to develop policy
approaches that build on the power of
industry to invest, innovate and understand
But the current economic climate has
clearly changed some of the rules of
engagement. To maximise the stretched
resources of the food industry, and
ensure true partnerships are developed,
it is critical that policy is underpinned by
sound evidence; is practical and realistic;
and implemented within a reasonable timeframe. It is also important Government
appreciates that policy approaches should
not undermine the long-term vitality of the
food chain, from farm to fork. After all, it is
only by having a successful production and
processing sector here in the UK that we
will be able to keep investing at the levels
historically required to deliver on those
Government policy goals.
We know that our members believe
regulatory issues are the biggest single
threat to the future competitiveness of
this sector. And we know members value
the fact that FDF pays close attention to
the regulatory processes, providing both
an early warning system for companies
of what lies ahead, as well as the efficient
machinery to help industry argue the case
for proportionate and pragmatic regulation.
The good news is that Government is
starting to understand the consequences of
imposing unnecessary regulatory burdens
on industry at a time of severe economic
downturn. But much more could be done.
In particular, we continue to press
Government to make the food sector a
genuine strategic priority – particularly as it
looks to rebalance the economy away from
an over-reliance on the service sector.
Why is that important? Well, we believe
that Whitehall needs to start 'joining up' on our many issues and develop an
approach to policy making that puts our
sector's future sustainability at its heart.
We also think that a clearly-articulated
Government vision for food production
and processing in this country would send
out a powerful signal to investors that the
UK is a good place to invest and ours is a
sector with a bright future. More than that,
we feel that more positive vibes will help
talented youngsters to recognise that this
is a valued and valuable industry with good
long-term career prospects and security.
In return for strategic level support from
across Government – an appropriate
framework for policy making – and the right
sort of partnerships – I believe this sector
will continue to show genuine leadership in
the way it responds to society's concerns
about big issues such as the health of the
nation or the wellbeing of the planet.
And while it is tough out there, our
sector has demonstrated its resilience in
previous downturns and will, I am sure,
come through this recession and maintain
its place as the biggest, most vibrant
and highly successful component of UK