Aberdeenshire food and drink businesses target growth through The Academy

Susan Yule, Founder of artisan nut butters producer Hungry Squirrel

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SEVEN Aberdeenshire businesses are amongst the first cohort of businesses to sign up to The Academy, a new and unique training initiative to help food and drink businesses targeting growth, after the industry was one of the hardest hit by COVID-19 and Brexit.

Open to food and drink businesses of all sizes and ambition, The Academy, is a series of programmes being delivered by Scotland Food & Drink Partnership and training experts Levercliff Associates to support businesses sell themselves, build their brands, thrive and compete in highly competitive retail and foodservice markets.

The three training programmes – Seeding Growth, Accelerating Growth and Commercial Excellence – have been designed to support companies at various stages in their development. The Academy programmes are the first major investment from the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership’s £5m Recovery Plan which is supported by The Scottish Government. It will run for two and a half years and aims to support over 200 Scottish businesses.

Four Aberdeenshire businesses are kickstarting their growth journey by joining the Seeding Growth programme including Big Beefy’s Biltong, Hungry Squirrel, Raven Spirits Limited and Smoke & Soul Ltd. A further three businesses, including Meikles of Scotland, Gourmets Choice and Middleton of Rora Dairy Produce, are upskilling on Accelerating Growth.

Seeding Growth, which started in May and will run for twelve weeks, is aimed at companies whose primary focus is maximising their local markets and beginning to consider opportunities in the broader Scottish marketplace.

Susan Yule, Founder of artisan nut butters producer Hungry Squirrel, said: “COVID-19 has definitely changed my business over the past year. I haven’t been able to attend the usual events and farmers markets that are part and parcel of running a food business, however, on the flipside of that, online sales have increased significantly. There has certainly been an increased consumer interest in buying and supporting local – this is definitely something that people are much more aware of and willing to support.

“I chose to join The Academy as I have reached a point in my business journey where I need support and guidance on how to take things to the next level. There are lots of opportunities out there, but to grow the business sustainably I need to ensure that I have the necessary structure in place to support my ambitious plans at each stage. With the combined knowledge and expertise of the Academy’s team of specialists on hand I aim to come out of this programme with a forward plan of action for connecting with buyers and the ability to effectively sell my brand and products UK wide and further afield.”

The Accelerating Growth course is aimed at established businesses already supplying large customers in Scotland and looking to advance in the wider UK market, and will start this month (June) and run for six months.

Yvonne Richmond, at Meikles of Scotland, said: “Even before the pandemic things had been getting increasingly difficult for us as our main markets – gift and tourist retailers – were struggling to deal with big changes in consumer purchasing habits. Now, more than a year later, we are taking tentative but determined steps to get back to some sort of business normality.

“The team at Scotland Food & Drink were sympathetic and helpful during the worst of ’the fear’.  When we heard of the initiative to help a group of fellow food and drink producers to get ‘back to basics’ and to speed our recovery and growth we were eager to be part of this exciting chance for expert help to forge ahead with renewed enthusiasm.”

Lucy Husband, Market Development and Business Engagement Director at Scotland Food & Drink, said: “The Academy aims to bring a renewed sense of positivity and optimism for businesses when it comes to growing their brands. It is fantastic to see so many local food and drink businesses focus on their future and revisit their ambitions for growth after an extraordinarily difficult year.

“These programmes have a real focus on knowledge sharing, upskilling and innovating, and are fundamentally about helping businesses to deliver a real step-change for long term growth. Change that is rooted in the here and now in the commercial realities of the world we live in, but with an eye to the future.

“Whilst we don’t know what the future might hold, food and drink will undoubtably continue to be a key export and economic contributor for Scotland and we are thrilled to be able to support businesses grow their brand to compete in local, UK and international markets.”

Applications are now open for future cohorts of The Academy. The deadline for applications for cohort two of Seeding Growth which starts in September is Sunday 13 June, however applications will continuously remain open for future cohorts. The first cohort of Commercial Excellence will start later this year.

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