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Q&A with Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd

The Welsh food and drink industry is continuing to make its mark and is open for business globally. BlasCymru/TasteWales 2021, supported by Welsh Government, is the landmark event of 2021 to showcase quality Welsh produce on the global stage. taste.blas catches up with Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd to hear more and her views on the current and future vision for Welsh food and drink.

taste.blas: Can you explain to our readers what BlasCymru/TasteWales is and why it is so important to the economy of Wales?

Lesley Griffiths: BlasCymru/TasteWales 2021 brings national and international buyers and Welsh food and drink producers together with the aim of opening up new markets and international trade deals for the fantastic food and drink companies that we have in Wales.

As we can see from the success of previous events, there is certainly an appetite for our produce not only in other parts of the UK, but also across the globe. Therefore, the event helps further establish our food and drink industry globally and promotes Wales as a leading location for quality food and drink production.

This year’s event will see over a hundred companies take part, who between them will be launching over 200 new products which cover a diverse range of sectors, including speciality items for niche markets through to high volume items for major distribution networks. As always, there will be a strong international flavour and while the European markets remain very important to us, we are also increasingly looking to engage with countries a little further afield, which is crucial to the continued growth of the industry into the future.

tb: How much has the food and drink sector in Wales grown over the last few years and what are expectations for the future?

LG: In 2014 we announced a simple, yet bold, target of raising the industry’s sales value by 30% to £7 billion by 2020. I am delighted we have now more than achieved this and the latest data shows the industry is currently worth £7.473 billion.

Having built up a strong global reputation for quality and provenance over the past decade, Welsh food and drink is now a globally renowned success story, which we need to continue to promote and develop. We have so much to celebrate here in Wales. I have every confidence, if we continue to support the industry and work hard to put the right conditions in place, then our growing reputation as a food and drink nation will only get stronger.

You can see how the event is so important to the growth of the industry from looking at the data from the previous event in 2019, where it generated over £11m in new business deals and approximately £20m in confirmed sales. I very much hope that we can build on these impressive figures further through the hosting of the forthcoming edition.

tb: It’s been a tough year for hospitality and food and drink producers in Wales with the double whammy of Covid and Brexit, are you hoping this year’s event will provide a shot in the arm?

LG: As the economy continues with its recovery from Covid-19, we have stepped up our support for the food and drink industry, including the Retailer Engagement Programme, which will address new challenges presented by Covid-19. As well as this, the Food Business Cluster Programme will assist businesses with marketing, including developing and enhancing online presence, and our export engagement work has been ongoing through virtual engagement with overseas buyers.

It has undoubtedly been a challenging time for everyone involved in the food and drink industry, but the response of our producers so far has been nothing short of magnificent. They’ve all really stepped up to the plate and made sure there was minimum disruption to supply chains right from the start of the pandemic. And we can all be really grateful for that and BlasCymru/TasteWales is just one of many upcoming activities that we’ve got planned to ensure the industry comes out on the other side stronger than ever.

tb: There seems to be quite an emphasis on sustainability this year – how important will this be for the future of food and drink in Wales?

LG: As we’ve seen recently, the future of our planet is certainly a hot topic of conversation and we want to ensure we do everything that we can to create an industry that has a sustainable ethos at its core.

Earlier this year we launched our future strategic mission for the next decade. Dubbed the ‘green shoots’ vision, it’s hoped that by focussing on sustainable growth and productivity, climate and ecological impact, fair work and raising standards throughout, Wales can create one of the most environmentally and socially responsible supply chains in the world, without compromising its global reputation for excellence.

Nobody’s pretending it’s not a challenge. But research has found that sustainability is important to 88% of consumers, with 40% of them willing to pay more for food and drink that is sustainable, so it’s a case of building on this and showing what the industry is doing in Wales to boost its green credentials.

The good news is that research also finds Wales is well placed to capitalise on this increasing trend towards sustainable food and drink, with its strong international reputation for producing high quality, tasty and natural products. And if we’re not quite there yet, the foundations are certainly being put in place.

tb: Is there a hope that people in Wales, when dining out especially, will want to see more local and sustainably produced food and drink on the menu?

LG: I think it is only natural that as people become increasingly concerned about where their food is sourced from, and taking into account issues such as excess food miles, then they will want to see more local and sustainably produced food and drink on menus when eating out. Therefore, it is down to everyone involved in the industry, from Welsh Government all the way through to retailers and producers, to make sure that consumers are aware of the sustainable credentials of food and drink from Wales and that the necessary systems are put in place to help ensure a ready supply of produce right across the supply chain.

Research clearly shows that people increasingly want to buy Welsh, especially in Wales itself. Recent work found that over 80% of consumers in Wales would prefer to buy Welsh products and over 62% of them believed it is very important to have Welsh produce on restaurant menus.

tb: Does that mean that anyone in a position to buy Welsh that doesn’t at the moment should seriously explore more local sources for their stock?

LG: There are plenty of routes and diverse products – more and more each day due to the infrastructure put in place by Welsh Government. A range of good work and projects are already in progress - Cywain for start-up new ideas; Food Innovation Wales for innovation; with increasing skills development supported by Food Skills Cymru.

tb: What other messages does Welsh Government want to deliver through the event?

LG: I think the main message we want to deliver through the event is that we’ve got a wonderful, vibrant and growing food and drink industry in Wales that is open for business to the world, and that it’s underpinned by a strong sustainability ethos that we’re determined to build on further into the future.

tb: What message do you have for foodies across Wales?

LG: Our grass is green, our rivers are deep, our mountains are high and our natural larder is plentiful. Wales has a long and proud tradition of producing outstanding food and drink, with an abundance of natural resources and raw food materials and a concerted focus on creating a sustainable future for the industry that harnesses these resources and has minimal impact on the environment.

When choosing to buy Welsh food and drink, you're investing in produce that is rooted in our communities, is shaped by our landscape, and is honed by our culture and language. Our food and drink industry is vibrant, growing and recognised the world over for its quality, so you really should be enjoying it yourselves as well.

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