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FDF debate marks launch of new report

13 September 2010

Many of the food and drink sector's luminaries gathered in Westminster on Friday to debate the future development of the UK's biggest manufacturing industry. The debate marked the launch of a report from the Institute for Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge.

Nick Bunker, president UK & Ireland, Kraft Foods and chairman of FDF's Competitiveness Steering Group, hosted the event, which took place on Friday 10 September.

``We're a successful industry,'' said host Nick Bunker, president UK & Ireland, Kraft Foods and chairman of FDF's Competitiveness Steering Group. ``But this report paints a picture of the challenges the food industry still has to address.

``Food manufacturing is a major customer of British industry - we're a key link. And with over a third of the workforce due to retire, some things such as increasingly volatile ingredients' prices are a priority. We encourage Government to put our sector at the heart of the economy.''

Bunker said he was very optimistic about the future of food manufacturing. ``When you read the reports, you see the progress in terms of sustainability, marketing, food labelling etc. There has been huge progress made which gives me faith.''

The report highlights the challenges facing the industry as it looks to maintain the nation's food security against the combined effects of climate change, higher global demand for agricultural products and increasing pressure on finite resources.

It also identifies how industry and Government should work together to ensure the continued growth of the economically-important food and drink manufacturing sector.

``We were delighted to work on this report,'' said Professor Mike Gregory. ``In the old-fashioned engineering world many people don't appreciate what goes on behind the making of cogs and spindles.

``Skills always come up and it's no less important for the food industry - this is already quite a skilled industry. Then there's innovation. It's a catch-all phrase and it needs to be seen right across the value chain, not just in product but in processes.''

Simon Baldry, CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, expanded on innovation: ''As part of our sustainability targets, including packaging and recycling, we're 'lightweighting' our PET packaging, reducing the size from 39-22g, and working with suppliers to remove secondary and tertiary packaging. Innovation is one area where business and government can work together as our recycling levels aren't as high as our neighbours in Europe.''

``Innovation and sustainability go hand-in-hand,'' said Bunker. ``We have a large coffee factory in Banbury; we've recently launched a refill bag with 97% less weight than a glass jar.''

FDF president Ross Warburton said: ``What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. The food industry has had to cope with enormous challenges - changing consumer tastes and government requirements. We've grown stronger and we're resilient - if you look at export numbers and manufacturing volumes, it's the strengths and skills we have as an industry that stand out.''

Melanie Leech, FDF director-general, emphasised the government's role: ''We see a role for leadership in the government that's set to level the playing field, not just in the UK but globally.''

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