Riding the wave of change in South West food and drink

The South West is known around the world for its food and drink sector, writes Katie Vickery, Head of Food & Drink, Osborne Clarke.

The region is home to an abundance of small, innovative food and drink businesses, all the way up to major players.

The sector faces a range of challenges and opportunities – the rise of vegetarianism and veganism, the move towards sustainability and ethical sourcing, issues around packaging and plastic, and the impact of new technology, to name a few.

The South West is leading the way in the trend towards the adoption of vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, often as part of a ‘flexitarian’ diet, and in the move towards sustainability in supply chains and ethical sourcing. Businesses are increasingly championing the provenance of their raw ingredients, complemented by a growing number of apps and platforms which provide transparency in these areas.

Another development in the food and drink sector is the increasing use of a ‘menu of claims’ on packaging around ingredients like sugar, fat and salt, and lifestyle claims around phrases like ‘natural’. This area is heavily regulated in terms of the claims that can be made but some smaller businesses typically choose to bypass it at the outset, which can cause problems as a brand grows.

The so-called ‘Attenborough effect’ has also had a major impact on the food and drink industry in the South West, particularly in the area of packaging.

Thanks to TV programmes like Blue Planet there is far greater public awareness and concern about the environmental impact of plastic packaging, which presents a challenge for the food industry.

Plastic has an important role to play in protecting our food from contamination and extending shelf-life, which stops food being wasted. Now that the UK no longer ships its waste plastic to Asia, the Government and industry are playing their part in creating a circular economy. This improves recycling facilities so that more plastic of a suitably high grade can be re-used by food manufacturers.

New ingredients such as CBD, a derivative of cannabis which is used in everything from chocolate to beer, and personalisation – for example how a more bespoke product can be delivered to a consumer who may be looking to shape their own nutrition plan – are current mega-trends.

And as with many other areas of our economy, the region’s food and drink sector is increasingly being shaped by technology and digital transformation.

The advance of artificial intelligence means that online shoppers can receive more targeted information (and promotions) which is mutually beneficial – being simultaneously more useful for a consumer, and likely to generate more sales for the retailer.

Looking further ahead, technology will transform the way that food is delivered to the consumer – and the way it is produced. Expect last-mile delivery to your door by a drone or a robot, and even the ability to produce food at home by 3D printing, to become the norm.

Katie Vickery, of Osborne Clarke.

Katie Vickery, of Osborne Clarke.

Katie Vickery is a partner at international legal practice Osborne Clarke, specialising in regulatory compliance and risk, particularly in the fields of food law, product safety, health and safety and consumer protection. She advises food and drink businesses on the composition, labelling and packaging of products, often when they are looking to launch into new markets.