The warning came from Professor David Hughes, Emeritus Professor of Food Marketing at Imperial College London and Visiting Professor at the University of Kent Business School, who was speaking at a new forum for businesses involved in the county’s food and drink sector.
The ‘Feed the Mind’ event, which was sponsored by Crowe Clark Whitehill, Vertex Law and Kent Business School, heard how the recession, changing weather patterns, technology, loss of consumer confidence, demographics, higher commodity prices and increasing competition are posing tough new challenges to the sector.
“We are in a business where we are going to have to manage volatility,” Professor Hughes said, “whether it be for our ingredients or the prices we can command.”
The lecture, entitled Trends in the Food & Drink Industry: Buckle Seat Belt and Fit Crash Hat took a global overview of how the sector is changing.
Customers are losing trust in ‘Big Food’, Governments are threatening legislation to tackle the health consequences arising from salt, fat and sugar consumption, and businesses have seen what could happen to sales when the integrity of a brand is compromised.
Professor Hughes believes that the food industry is reacting to these challenges – and that may well be good news for suppliers.
“I think we are going to see much less promiscuity in sourcing suppliers, with shorter supply chains and much longer relationships even down to micro-ingredients,” he said.
“There’s an interesting convergence of people wanting value – a great deal – but also being interested in values such as ethics, sustainability and provenance,” he added. “The green bar is going up and up and up. That poses a challenge but being green gives you a ticket to enter premium markets.
“Being green on its own is not enough, though. What delivers the premium is great tasting product and provenance – something that Kent producers are well placed to deliver.”
The lecture from Professor Hughes – and the lunch and networking that accompanied it at Bradbourne House – was the first in a planned series of similar events being organised by Kent Business School, Vertex Law and Crowe Clark Whitehill.
James Beatton from Vertex Law said: “This first event was very successful and we were delighted to be able to attract a guest speaker of the calibre and international reputation of Professor Hughes. Along with Crowe Clark Whitehill and Kent Business School who, like us, are food sector specialists, we look forward to hosting many similar events.”
Geert Struyven from Crowe Clark Whitehill, a national audit, tax and advisory firm with offices in Tunbridge Wells and Maidstone, added: “As outlined by Professor Hughes, globally the industry faces challenging times but for well-managed and well-resourced businesses in Kent, this can create an opportunity to prosper in a changing marketplace.”