The NatWest Accelerator has empowered hundreds of business owners from across Wales to scale their businesses to the next level. Now, as the bank launches a specialist Wales Food and Drink Accelerator, NatWest Cymru Ecosystem Manager Gemma Casey outlines why now is the time to offer the sector this tailored support.
Covid and climate –two very real crises facing the Welsh economy, not least the food and drink sector.
No-one would deny that these global forces have, and will continue to, exert extreme pressure on the sector. Yet along with the inevitable challenges – closures, staffing, supply chain issues, skills gaps, to name but a few – also come huge business opportunities.
Take shifting consumer trends, for instance. A survey from Deloitte in the 12 months to March 2021 found that 49% of consumers had bought more seasonal produce. In the same month Demos produced a report, Food In A Pandemic, which reported that just over a quarter (28%) had bought more locally-produced food.
Food and drink is a priority economic sector in Wales, with 170,000 people contributing to gross sales of £17.3 billion. Welsh Government says its vision is to create a strong and vibrant Welsh food and drink sector with a global reputation for excellence, having one of the most environmentally and socially responsible supply chains in the world.
The sector in Wales already benefits from a huge amount of support from the likes of Cywain, the Food and Drink Federation Cymru, and ‘clusters’ designed to support individual sub-sectors as well as different stages of business growth.
Working alongside and complementing this existing support, the NatWest Wales Food and Drink Accelerator aims to give business owners the right mindset, skills and connections to reach their ambitions.
The programme is designed to align with the goals of the Food and Drink Wales Industry Board, which works to grow, promote and enhance the reputation of the Welsh food and drink industry.
The NatWest Wales Food and Drink Accelerator was launched at the recent Blas Cymru/Taste Wales conference – an event where the scale, quality and sheer potential of the Welsh food and drink sector was made manifest in the glorious displays of products, from meat and dairy to confectionary, cakes, tea, coffee, alcoholic tipples, condiments and more.
Many of those businesses displaying their wares at Blas Cymru are already, or will become, successful scale-ups. We want to play a part in helping them realise their ambitions – and, crucially, for those who think there are too many barriers to take their business to the next level, we want to support them to overcome those challenges.
Research by the ScaleUp Institute shows that scale-ups are 50% more productive than other SMEs, and employ 30% of the SME workforce in the UK. Yet only 2.5% of the UK’s SMEs are scale-ups today.
There’s a huge opportunity here to support businesses in Wales’ food and drink sector to shift the dial on growth.
We’re bringing the sector bespoke coaching – because one person’s ambition for their business, and the challenges they need to tackle to achieve that, will be different to the next business owner. And we’re creating a strong and supportive community of business owners who will collaborate and provide the peer-to-peer support that research shows is so important to growth.
With the right support from a variety of organisations working collaboratively, small businesses in the Welsh food and drink sector can not only survive these tough times, they can prosper and thrive. That can only be good for them, for the Welsh economy, and our communities as a whole. We’re delighted to take our place in helping that to happen.