Growing… and in a good way

Food scares and scandals may be big news but Dr Colette Backwell, director of the Scottish Food and Drink Federation, argues that Scotland’s food firms are showing a real commitment to a healthier future.

SCOTLAND’S food and drink manufacturing industry is a real success story, making a significant contribution to the economy and employment, while providing consumers with safe, affordable and nutritious food and drink.
As the voice of this sector, the Scottish Food and Drink Federation is the only representative body for food and drink manufacturers on the Scottish Government’s Ministerial Joint Obesity Group and the Food Implementation Group. We know that the commitment of our members, both of SFDF in Scotland and the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) across the UK, to improved public health is long-standing. Through a new report,

Dr Colette Backwell, director SFDF.
Dr Colette Backwell, director SFDF.
Delivering Healthy Growth, we have demonstrated the vast range of voluntary initiatives undertaken by manufacturers to improve the health of consumers, employees and people in the community. Whether it is through recipe reformulations, the development of healthier choices, packaging innovations or workplace wellbeing initiatives, manufacturing businesses are stepping up and making a real contribution towards improved public health. What’s more we know that this work is making a difference. For instance, over the past five years, there has been a 10% reduction in salt levels in FDF members’ products compared with 2008.
Two of the SFDF member companies showcased in the ‘Healthy Communities’ section of the new report are Border Biscuits, a biscuit manufacturer based in Lanarkshire, and Macphie, an ingredients manufacturer, based in Glenbervie, Aberdeenshire. At Border Biscuits, which is based in an industrial estate with limited local facilities, the management team has looked creatively at how it can create opportunities for staff to be active at work. For example, employees are encouraged to volunteer time during working hours to support Clydesdale Community Initiatives, a local charity which supports social care for vulnerable groups in the community. Volunteering typically involves undertaking physical tasks, such as digging or dry stone dyking, which is good for physical health and staff morale. At Macphie, management provide employees with access to occupational health clinics which offer advice on health and fitness, as well as covering entrance fees for sporting event participation. Morale is kept high as employees are offered regular personal development training opportunities and the chance to work with local schools, allowing them to build links with the community.
To support those efforts and help more companies step up to the plate, SFDF’s innovative, pilot reformulation programme has made some significant achievements to date. Funded by the Scottish Government, the programme offers small and medium-sized food and drink businesses in Scotland free, tailored advice to help them reduce the energy content (through lowering levels of fat or sugars) and the salt content of their products.
We are now working with 18 companies across Scotland and to date there has been an average 20% reduction of salt in recipes reformulated under our industry technical manager Chris Peace’s guidance. During a recent collaboration Chris helped T&R Skinner, a family butcher based in Stirling, achieve a 25% salt reduction across its premium sausage range, of which 60,000 sausages are sold each year. Minister for public health Michael Matheson said of that work: “Small businesses like T&R Skinner are really seeing the benefits of this innovative programme to make their products healthier, without impacting on sales. I would encourage interested businesses to get in touch to find out more about how the programme could help them.”
More information on these and other industry initiatives outlined in the Delivering Healthy Growth report will be unveiled in Scotland at our reception at the Scottish Parliament on 26 March. Sponsored by Lewis Macdonald MSP and with ministerial input, the evening will provide an opportunity for us to show how food and drink manufacturers are putting health at the heart of sustainable growth.