The City Food and Drink Lecture: A stronger relationship between producers and policymakers is needed

The City Food and Drink Lecture: A stronger relationship between producers and policymakers is needed

The 2024 City Food and Drink Lecture (CFDL) returned to the Guildhall and played host to 900 guests from all aspects of the food supply chain, including 4 Trainees who represented MDS at the invite-only event.

Organised by the eight City livery companies (the Worshipful Companies of Bakers, Butchers, Cooks, Distillers, Farmers, Fishmongers, Fruiterers and Poulters) the occasion sits at the forefront of the food industry calendar and uses this platform to discuss important issues within the sector.

There is a place for everyone in food

Phil Hambling
Phil Hambling (right) with ABP Trainee Sam Wheeler

For students and young professionals alike, the day kicked off with the Future Generation Forum led by Phil Hambling, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at ABP– a meat processing business. Accompanied by various individuals across the company, which is said to reach 20 million consumers every week, they united with one message: that no matter your skills, qualifications and experience the food industry is open to all. For those within the sector this is no secret, but agri-food gets such little coverage within the classroom that exposure is limited to you going about your weekly food shop. Challenging the misconceptions, each ABP guest explained their routes into food whilst also showcasing the difference that ABP are making to the 40-50 thousand farmers they work with and how sustainability (in reducing water and energy usage) has been paramount.

The Lecture

CEO Simon Roberts delivering his lecture

The 23rd CFDL invited the CEO of Sainsbury’s, Simon Roberts, to lead the Lecture and his chosen topic was ‘good food needs a great food system’. Simon used this platform to highlight that the food industry is a force for good, whilst turning the attention of his audience towards the need to be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.

In recognising that previous relationships that supermarkets had with their suppliers did not have the goal of nurturing long-term partnerships in mind, the Sainsbury’s CEO voiced that the entire supply chain must seek to be more unified going forward. Moreover, considering the changes to agricultural policy (such as the Environmental Land Management scheme) the Government should at all costs avoid working against agriculture, or the gap that exists between food security and sustainability will widen. Nevertheless, he went on to praise the efforts of retailers in curbing inflationary pressures on consumers with the UK paying one of the lowest food prices, stating that the average proportion of consumer income spent on food has dropped from 37% to 12% since 1957.

The response to the pandemic further showed the strength in the food industry; yet, despite consumer spending in the sector being valued at £254bn in 2022, it is feared that the gains made with Government throughout this period have now been lost. When during this time food resilience was a national priority, a reduction in communication with policymakers has now exposed the cracks in our food system resulting in supply shortages.

The CFDL panel, led by Farming Today’s Charlotte Smith (far right)

In the face of this, supermarkets are still able to stack their shelves every day with over 30 thousand products from more than 90 countries and it is thanks to the efforts of the 4.2m people working within the UK agri-food sector that make this happen.

Following the Lecture, Simon featured on the panel alongside NFU president Tom Bradshaw, Anna Taylor (the Food Foundation’s executive director) and Dan Aherne (global CEO of New England Seafood International)- read about it here.