Putting local on your business event menu
By Fiona Richmond, Head of Regional Food, Scotland Food & Drink
As we head towards the closing days of Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight, the annual celebration of the country’s produce and the people who make, serve, sell and cook it which, this year, coincides with the food and drink sector focus of VisitScotland’s Legends campaign, it’s a good time to stop and reflect on the importance of sourcing local at the hundreds of business events that come to our shores each year.
Far from being a simply functional aspect of any kind of business gathering, giving guests a taste of local and regional produce, and the story behind it, can serve to enhance their entire event experience, provide positive lasting memories of the destination and even encourage them to return. And, crucially, it brings invaluable support to suppliers and the wider food and drink economy.
The strength of Scotland’s food industry is clear, as summed up by our chief executive, James Withers, in the video that kicked off the sector campaign at the beginning of the month. Worth £15bn, the country is awash with outstanding, iconic produce renowned the world over; home to both long-established brands and innovative entrepreneurs and a vibrant, collaborative community of people, businesses and organisations all dedicated to maintaining and growing Scotland’s position as a leading food and drink nation.
Added to this, Scotland’s national food tourism plan, launched in Autumn 2018, makes a bold statement around the country’s ambition to become a global player in this arena, upping our game to capitalise on the booming visitor demand for a ‘taste of place’ – or, to put it another way, experiencing local flavours, meeting the people behind the produce and understanding the destination’s culture through its food and drink. By so doing, we hope to double the visitor spend on food and drink at the same time.
Business events are essential to this aspiration and there’s a huge potential for everyone to benefit if we get the food and drink sourcing right.
Some of the most memorable events I’ve attended over the years have been so because of the local produce and that ‘taste of place’ – whether that be typical ‘pinxos’ for lunch at a global food tourism conference in San Sebastian; an outdoor feast on a farm at a hospitality conference in Ontario or a chef-led market tour, with tastings, at a conference in Vancouver. And, closer to home, at our very own events, we put our suppliers centre-stage, from Scotch Beef and seafood to cheese, craft beer and spirits – nothing makes a greater statement about our industry that tasting it, learning about it and sharing with others. It’s a talking point, tastes great and gives guests a sense of a sense of where they are in the world and what’s unique to that area.
Business events attract thousands of visitors to Scotland year after year, and what an opportunity to leave a lasting impression with them through serving delicious produce from our land and seas. It’s almost certain that they will return home with great memories and positive view about our country’s larder.
So, if you’re in the business of events and conferences, irrespective of type, sector or audience, think about every aspect of the catering offer, whether that be the coffee break, working lunch or special evening meal. Ask the venue caterer for local produce (be demanding!), question where it’s from and create menus that reflect the excellence of the Scottish larder. Honour the producers by stating the origin of the dishes; tell guests where to buy local produce to take home, where to eat it or enjoy Scottish food tourism experiences in between (think markets, distilleries or tasting tours, for example). Consider bringing some theatre to the occasion too, whether that be oyster shucking or inviting the producers themselves to serve and talk about their produce. Give every guest the chance to experience that taste of place for themselves. In so doing, our national food tourism ambitions will have an even greater chance of succeeding, to the benefit of all.
With thanks to Fiona Richmond and everyone at Scotland Food and Drink