Respecting, protecting, and enhancing our natural environment is critical, not just for Scotland’s future generations, businesses, and tourists, but for the wellbeing of our current population and economy. Ceri Ritchie, Head of Food and Enterprise at SAC Consulting, was one of the organisers of Foraging Fortnight, in September. In today’s guest blog, Ceri reflects back on the business-related workshops that were held to explore and advise on the sustainable use of natural produce in the food sector.
Choosing the right food as consumers, the right ingredients as food businesses, or creating the right experiences at tourist destinations all have an impact on our natural environment and its larder, either directly or indirectly. Through wise choices, we can make sure these are positive impacts. This year’s Foraging Fortnight festival hosted business events with that crucial balance in mind, looking at storytelling around foraged plants, back garden edibles to supply commercial kitchens, product and menu development using foraged ingredients and visitor experiences built around foraging and our natural environment.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made consumers reassess what is important in their lives and will have a lasting impact on consumer behaviour. It has encouraged a greater interest in local food, culinary culture, and heritage, and in sustainability. However, many are experiencing a squeeze on household disposable income, and this has also increased interest in cost-saving meal ideas – economy gastronomy – often nostalgic recipes from previous ‘hard times’. UK consumers are buying slightly less than before due to the impact of inflation, and there has been a rise in home grown vegetables.
This ‘disruption’ is driving change and innovation in many areas including product, packaging, promotion, range development and experience creation. Some key grocery retailers already have a strong Scottish range at accessible prices, others are investing heavily in value ranges, in an effort to price-match. Retailers are also exploring eco-scoring on food products.
Since the pandemic, 85% of UK consumers have adopted at least one lifestyle change (Deloitte, April 2021) and 48% of consumers believe that sustainability has become more important (Kantar 2021). Consumers are making choices that reflect an increased engagement with ‘sustainability’ and this is reflected in a number of ways: taking advantage of refill opportunities, buying local, resurrecting family recipes, taking part in #Veganuary or #Regenuary and for tourists, realising that the great outdoors is now perhaps more appealing than a crowded city.
Plant-based food choices have increased in popularity, driven by beliefs that is it better for consumer health and the planet. There is also an increased interest in ‘functional wellness’ – with consumers selecting foods that make a positive contribution to wellbeing and recognising the benefits of a balanced diet.
Wild and sustainably foraged foods can add a bit of natural interest and goodness to a diet and connect the consumer with nature. Getting out into the countryside is a natural tonic; it supports wellbeing and provides opportunities for people to build their knowledge of the plants around them, many of which have traditional functional wellness characteristics.
Scotland’s dramatic landscape underpins all of our natural capital and ecosystems and, together with our heritage and culture, is a mainstay of the Scottish tourism industry. Many businesses have recognised this opportunity and have created products that are based on traditional recipes or include wild plants in their flavours. Many of these plants are often steeped in folklore and cultural storytelling which in turn can enhance a brand’s story. Some businesses have added value to their visitor experience by highlighting links to the plants and landscapes around them.
Whether event catering, a farm shop, a café or as part of an experience-based diversified rural enterprise – addressing key consumer interests, creating story and theatre around products and services, and making those all-important links to nature adds real value. This is still a largely untapped opportunity for businesses across Scotland, and often choosing the story is the most challenging aspect. Our workshops during Foraging Fortnight this year included business case-studies and group discussion exploring these themes and we also offered one-to-one advice with micro-businesses and start-ups to link these entrepreneurs with key market information and opportunities.
The pandemic narrowed our horizons, drew us outdoors and also encouraged renewed interest in growing our own food. Gardening and indeed foraging are rewarding and meditative pastimes, allowing people to get close to nature, at their own pace. Creating an edible garden at whatever scale you choose can be part of a tranquil space to escape the everyday.
For businesses, Scotland’s natural larder provides an opportunity to create an immersive food experience, foraging and cooking wild foods. What are the skills needed? Is there an opportunity to support the delivery of new food and drink, rural or heritage skills? Could you maximise the food tourism opportunity, boost a destination’s brand equity, essentially create a destination where people travel for a taste of place, in order to get a sense of place? The bare minimum is no longer acceptable. Consumers, businesses and stakeholders in Scotland can help to ensure there is a future where everyone can continue to enjoy our natural heritage.
As part of Scotland’s Rural College, SAC Consulting provides independent, research-driven, industry-leading expertise, advice, and solutions for agricultural, food, and land-based businesses.
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