The food and drinks sector: A briefing paper for the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership was written in response to the request to us by the LEP to provide intelligence and information on the food and drink sector as part of their work on their economic strategy for the LEP area.
It contains the fruits of our consultation with over 20 people with very different experiences and perspectives on the food sector.
We begin by arguing that the food and drink sector is qualitatively different from others — we all eat! We then forward three criteria by which, we suggest, the LEP can judge the success or otherwise of their economic strategy. How will it:
- Expand the economic opportunities of all interest groups in the sector? (We gave them the PMCC framework — producer, multiplier, controller and consumer — by which to categorise these interest groups.)
- Cost and account for the contributions of all interest groups?
- Set out short-term tactics to meet longer term strategic aims?
There challenges in meeting these three criteria require a nuanced understanding of the economic opportunities in the complexities — and frequent conflicts — within the sector. An everyday example series to illustrate this:
❖ Many of us cheerfully lug home bottled water from the shops costing 25p-£1/litre and weighing 1 kg/litre . . . even though tap water in the UK is potable and can provide all liquid requirements for nearly all of us for a mere £1 per annum, and without any recycling costs; exceptions being, for example, people affected badly by the fluoride in some water supplies.
❖ Carbonated water sales (fizzy or sparkling water, or ‘soda water’ as it’s referred to in the States) are a small but increasing proportion of bottled water sold. All carbonated drinks, including fizzy water, are a significant contributory factor in tooth decay.
❖ Selling bottled water is hugely profitable. One of the world’s largest food and drinks companies, Group Danone SA, report their water division is growing rapidly, a 9% increase in sales revenue in 2014 (12.3% in Q4) and a very good performance in European markets.
❖ It takes 5 litres of water, arguably the world’s most valuable agricultural resource, to make a half-litre bottle of water.