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Visit Scotland | Alba
Article published 01/10/2019

…food & drink

To celebrate our fifty-year anniversary, we’ve been talking to those involved in the tourism industry.  Whilst this is VisitScotland’s own milestone, it’s very much an anniversary to be shared with our industry colleagues and partners.

This month we spoke with Fiona Richmond, Head of Regional Food at Scotland Food & Drink, on the changes across the tourism / food & drink sector. As well as what may lie ahead.

Do you have any interesting stories you can tell of your time in the tourism / food & drink sector?

I’ve been in food and drink for around 16 years now, completely unplanned, and have enjoyed experiences that I would never have dreamt of. I’ve met many of my heroes including legendary Darina Allen of Ballymaloe, near Cork, to Alice Waters, Chez Panisse, who transformed the food scene in California and launched the school garden movement, who have shaped the way I think about food production and culture.

One of the most memorable events I worked on during my time at Slow Food was the global gathering of small-scale food producers from around the world, Terra Madre, in Turin, northern Italy, to meet and share knowledge. To see farmers, growers, fisherfolk, bakers, cheesemakers and more, from every continent, many of whom had never been out of their own territory, and who arrived in their colourful national dress, was a spectacle to behold.

We recruited a big chef presence one year, too, including from Scotland and the rest of the UK. For so many of them, it changed the way they thought about food, giving sense of supporting local producers and his own nation’s culinary culture.

What have been the main changes within the tourism / food & drink over the last 50 years?

As a child of the 1970s (not shy of 50 years!) things are very different now from my generation. I grew up in a village in the Ayrshire countryside and most shopping was done locally, at the butcher, greengrocer or corner shop. The ‘lemonade man’ came around weekly, as did the fish van and others. Milk was delivered to the door daily too.

A Friday night treat was a trip to the Scots-Italian fish and chip/ice cream shop. Food was simple, and we rarely ate out. Holidays were taken in the UK and I never went abroad until I was 15.

Fast forward and the world has changed. Food, of all types and flavours, is available 24/7, from supermarkets to online to farmers’ markets and independents. Choice and variety are mind-boggling. And eating out-of-home is a regular, rather than occasional affair, and a big part of people’s lives.

Food tourism, where people travel for memorable food and drink experiences (everything from going to a destination restaurant to street food festivals to beverage trails, cookery holidays and farm tours), is now a growing global trend, but unheard of 50 years ago.

It would be hard not to argue, however, that there’s a renewed sense of rediscovering the food and drink of our own country and re-connecting with it - appreciating the distinctiveness of Scottish produce and supporting the people behind it. The strength of the sector in Scotland, which has been nothing short of remarkable in the past 10 years, supports that. Our produce is second-to-none and the demand for it at home and abroad continues to rise.

And, of course, whilst our national food tourism plan is in its infancy, this whole area is growing and developing at pace and our visitors, whether local or international, have a wonderful choice of experiences to discover across the country.

And finally, what do you think lies ahead?

Oh, to have a crystal ball! As an industry, our focus is on 2030 and our vision is that food and drink sector will be worth £30 billion, double what it is now, and a world-leader in responsible, profitable growth.

And our food tourism plan, in partnership with Scottish Tourism Alliance, aspires that Scotland is known internationally as a destination for quality, memorable food and drink experiences, as well as unlocking a £1 billion growth potential, within that same timeframe.

So, if I was to look beyond that, with these ambitions fully realised and embedded in our country, my hope would be that the focus on quality produce and demand for local was stronger than ever. That we visibly see excellent Scottish food and drink even more visible across retail and foodservice; that people are travelling to Scotland, from near and far, to discover the brilliant food and drink experiences that are rooted in the country and that the country is talked about on the global stage as leading example of food tourism development.