Burning the ice is the most appropriate expression I can think of to describe what our industry needs to do over the next few years. Burn the ice is an imperative used by bartenders (mainly in the US). It describes the removal of ice in their bar wells at the end of the night, essential to ensure they’re fit and ready to go for their next round of customers. And being customer-ready is what we need most. But burning the ice also conjures up another image; of Alaskan aviators methodically jet-cleaning the wintry engines and wings of DC3s before they roar down blizzard blown runways with about as much anxiety as a Waitrose driver heading down Byres Road.
And it’s this sangfroid, and the ability to burn the ice off our wings, that we’ll need as our industry takes off into a post-EU world where maps are sketchy, charts vague and all forecasts predict turbulence. Of course, it’s already pretty squally out there, even before the arrival of storm Brexit. Food price inflation in the UK is starting to drop again but input costs are rising. There’s carbon dioxide disruption, escalating butter costs and a dollar per kilo value of vanilla that’s greater than silver. Jamie Oliver, Carluccio and Conran are now associated more with excess than success as the over-expanding UK restaurant sector begins a nose-dive that could turn into a crash.
None of this even appeared on our radars when Britain voted itself out of Europe two years ago. What use is a traditional wind-sock to gauge the next big gust when the trade policy of the world’s biggest economy doesn’t change with the wind? Or any other discernible reason.
The buffeting that we take from all these could be significant. The EU responded to US steel tariffs by slapping a 25% premium on American bourbon imports. This looks like a clever move by continental Europe. By avoiding tariffs on Californian wine, it targets the President’s heartlands whilst mitigating (they hope) tit-for-tat retaliation against Europe’s giant wine industry. That’s no succour for Scotch Whisky, though. Or perhaps I’m reading too much into it. The EU also applied a new 25% tariff to US-made ‘Men’s and Boy’s Crocheted Trousers’. Hit them where it hurts.
Yet the very fact that trade wars are raging at all gives us a key insight. Tariffs are an admission that these are goods that people really want to buy (even the trousers). We know from research, and experience, that our industry’s reputation for producing some of the best food and drink in the world continues to grow. And yet turning that status into invoices requires not just great products but great pitches. We will need to celebrate sales as a vital skill. Understand that truly successful marketing is much more than a hashtag campaign. Burning the ice in our case means continuing to supply coveted products, of the highest quality, to global standards. That will get us off the ground. To keep soaring we need to find new customers and markets and sell, sell, sell.
By Andrew Niven. Strategic Market Intelligence Manager, Scotland Food & Drink.