Soaring sales are reported by many PPMA members, three-quarters of whom are equipment suppliers to food and drink manufacturers, said Buxton. “I never finish a conversation with a member without asking how business is going,” he said. “And it seems to be going very well. Some companies are recording a triple increase in sales this year compared with last year.”
While Buxton acknowledged "an element of post recession surge," he believed the sustained increase was evidence of long-term improvement.
The food sector’s rising reputation and a growing appreciation by government of its contribution to the economy was another reason for optimism, said Buxton. “Food is the UK’s single biggest industry and it is grossly undervalued in terms of its contribution to Gross Domestic Product.”
Fallen from grace
But there are signs that is beginning to change. “The financial sector has always been regarded as the government’s panacea [for economic problems] but it has fallen from grace in a big way. UK manufacturers are now doing very well and the government recognises that a successful economy has to buy and sell things.”
A key way forward will be to improve the availability of credit for small-to-medium sized food and beverage enterprises (SMEs). Much depended on improving communication between businesses and the banks in order to avoid a return to what Buxton described at “Captain Mainwaring-style banking”.
To improve communications, the PPMA organises meetings with the British Bankers’ Association. A priority is to help businesses forge personal contacts with bankers.
The state of British innovation was another reason for optimism, said Buxton. “UK businesses may not be able to compete globally on price but we can on innovation and technology which we are very good at.”
Alive and well
While UK businesses do not enjoy the same level of government support as some EU countries, such as Germany, "innovation is very much alive and well," he said. He noted renewed interest in technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID) in which we had a strong command.
But one area where the UK does need to improve is the deployment of robots. “We are way behind industrial nations, such as Germany, and also France and Belgium in the application of robotic technologies. Yet they have much to offer food and beverage manufacturers in the being able to operate in more stringent environments [than people] and in super-clean environments,” he said.
In order to make robots more widespread in British manufacturing, the government is making grants totalling £600,000 available to SMEs and larger-scale businesses which currently lack expertise in this area. For more information, click here.