The consequences of Brexit are “potentially enormous” for Scotland’s food and drink industry, with firms facing a backlash from European consumers, as well as the possibility of trade tariffs and losing access to EU workers.

That is the verdict of leading industry figures, who have spoken of their fears for the future of Scotland’s highly respected food and drink producers.

David Reid, an industry veteran with more than 30 years’ experience said Brexit will “undoubtedly have a huge impact on Scottish businesses who rely on overseas labour in food production as well as within the hospitality industry”.

Mr Reid, who runs the consultancy Because Brands Matter, added: “If wage costs rise because talent is increasingly harder to find, many companies could be forced out of business”.

He continued: “Beyond that, it is difficult to know what the consequences are likely to be, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a backlash from Europe where people are less likely to buy goods from the UK.

“For Scottish exporters clearly this is a worrying thought alongside the potential of an increase in customs duty.”

Ton Christaanse, chairman of beef processor AK Stoddart, and former chief executive of Brakes (UK) said that without a trade deal Scottish producers could become uncompetitive with their European counterparts, in spite of the ongoing weakness in sterling.

Mr Christaanse also warned that the labour market could face a crisis when the UK finally leaves the union.

“We will potentially have a shortage of EU labour if there [is] stricter immigration [control] and therefore labour costs will rise,” he said. “Already companies are holding back investments in the UK because of Brexit uncertainty, but also because of continuous constitutional debate in Scotland itself.”

David Thomson, Food & Drink Federation (Scotland), chief executive said, that however the negotiations between the UK Government and Brussels progress, the food and drink industry will be left making major adjustments.

“We need people to make our food, we need trade deals and rules to allow us to export and import goods,” he said. “We need clear regulation that works for the industry and we need prioritisation of food and drink by the Scottish and UK governments.”

However Craig Anderson, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Company, said that Brexit could provide “unique opportunities” including “opening up the possibility for greater focus and defining the Scottish food and drink offering”, and “a greater focus of our in-built strengths around provenance”.

He added: “Global consumers place a high value on the provenance and traceability of their food and drink products and we are... harnessing the power of Brand Scotland to position ourselves on the global stage and driving our exports. This represents one of the great opportunities of Brexit and one we are well-placed to capitalise upon.”

These comments were made in a study undertaken by one of our Associate Directors as Aspen, Jules Pearson. Jules noted that in order for producers to compete and grow, they had to “create, innovate and change”.

She highlighted the role of foreign labour in the industry, noting that “for the best part of a generation Scotland has had the benefit of young European talent to help support and grow our reputation for fantastic food from Angus berries to Angus beef”.

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