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The combined agriculture and food and drink industries are twice as important in Cornwall as they are nationally.

Exeter research highlights importance of Cornwall's food and drink industry

Research on the agriculture and food and drink of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly confirms just how vital these industries are to the area.

The research was commissioned by the Cornwall Development Company and undertaken by the University of Exeter’s Centre for Rural Policy Research and Cornwall Food & Drink.

The researchers found that, in terms of employment, the combined agriculture and food and drink sectors are twice as important in Cornwall as they are on average nationally and account for 63,700 food-related jobs, almost 30 per cent of all jobs in the county.

This combination of industries has an enormous economic value, contributing around 18 per cent to the county’s economic output when taking all elements of the supply chain together and worth at least £1.4 billion in annual turnover.  

Dr Matt Lobley, who led the research for the University of Exeter’s , said:  “Across the board, from farming to food manufacturing and in the service industries of retail, wholesale and hospitality, the supply chain is affected by cost-price pressures, where input costs have risen faster than the prices businesses are able to charge for their products or services.”

Ruth Huxley, director of Cornwall Food & Drink, agrees but stresses that the survey showed significant differences in how businesses have been affected and the manner in which they have reacted:  “By and large the recession has revealed any basic business weaknesses and anyone papering over the cracks is, frankly, unlikely to survive this tough climate, but there are numerous ways of dealing with the current squeeze and we have discovered some diverse strategies. For example, while some businesses are concentrating on protecting their market share by keeping their existing customers happy and not taking on new risks, others are exploring new markets, boosting their turnover to compensate for diminishing margin and spreading their risk.  All these strategies have their merits; the important thing is for businesses to have one – these are not times for a laissez faire approach.”

To accompany the study of Cornwall’s agri-food sector, Cornwall Food & Drink carried out a review of the UK food market, which has been published as a separate report.  This contains a broad analysis of consumer and industry trends nationally and uncovers shopper and dining trends that offer opportunities for businesses to capitalise on. 

The report  indicates  how people’s dining habits are beginning to polarise, with good value, simple dining doing well at one end of the spectrum and top quality fine dining remaining popular for special occasions and higher spending customers at the other.  However, this means that the mid-market is experiencing some difficulty, partly due to initiatives such as the retailers’ ‘Dine in for £10’ and similar promotions.

What does this all mean for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and what actions will be taken with the findings of the research at a strategic level?  David Rodda, Rural Delivery Manager for Cornwall Development Company, stresses that a range of indicators can be identified from the research.  “It is clear from the studies that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have an incredibly strong, vibrant and important agri-food industry; however, no-one should be complacent at the current time. It is therefore great to be able to identify numerous examples of innovative ideas and ways in which Cornwall can continue to develop its agriculture and food and drink businesses, some of which could offer the chance for us to be UK and even global leaders in certain spheres. The key thing is that we don’t allow the opportunities to pass us by, so I will be working hard with Cornwall Agri-food Council and partners such as Cornwall Food & Drink, to establish a strategy that capitalises on our strengths and continues to build real value into the sector to protect it in the longer term.”

Those interested in the full report can download a copy  free of charge here. The accompanying review of the UK food market is available here.

Date: 25 January 2012

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