In Conversation with Ian Wright

Mar 29, 2023

In October 2022, Food and Drink North East (FADNE) announced five key appointments to its board of directors, which included industry expert Ian Wright who has three decades of experience in leading positions in the food and drink industry and is currently Chair of the British government’s Food and Drink Sector Council.

He has also previously worked for Boots, Diageo – a global leader and multinational alcohol company, and the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), the UK membership body for food and drink manufacturers.

We sat down with Ian to talk about why he joined the FADNE board of directors, the challenges that the food and drink industry faces at this time, and why FADNE is uniquely positioned to be the voice of the industry in the North East.

“I think I’ve got three different sets of experience of food and drink,” explains Ian. “One, from the retail end; two, from the manufacturer end, and the third where I’ve grown a representative body for food and drink. So I know the industry, and although the FDF is a national body and FADNE is a regional organisation, I feel like I can use all of this experience to help FADNE develop.”

“The challenge for food and drink businesses, whether they be manufacturers, retailers, or producers in the hospitality industry, is always to keep innovating and to keep creating popular products at a price which people can, or choose, to afford,” says Ian. “And in the current cost of living crisis that’s particularly tricky because we know that people in these industries are under pressure to keep prices down so that people can afford them.”

This challenge is unique to all in the industry across the UK, but Ian goes on to mention a specific North East issue too. “The other challenge is the idea of how the North East sees itself,” says Ian. “The North East catchment area doesn’t have a single administrative focus, so you’re having to appeal to a number of different local authorities and different regional bodies, whereas when you look at Scotland Food and Drink, there is a coherence there.

“In the North East, that is not quite as true, and it means the effort to represent the industry to those who make decisions about it is unnecessarily fragmented.”

It is an issue that FADNE is trying to resolve through its mission to build a vibrant and engaged community that champions positive trade, promotes a sustainable, circular economy and acts as a collective and inclusive voice for the region’s food and drink sector.

“I’m a big believer in FADNE,” says Ian. “It can be the voice in the North East in food and drink. It’s about making a noise and trying to get that representation.”

By doing so it can then connect to Ian’s role in the Food and Drink Sector Council, especially when it comes to exporting and championing British food and drink around the world.

“It’s about identifying how we help those businesses better,” says Ian. “The first thing that we need to do is to get people to better use the resources that are already there and are underused. We need to introduce those people, through bodies like FADNE who are closer to the ground and understand the individual needs of particular producers in their particular places, and to show them a local experience – it’s much easier to take on exporting if someone down the road can say how they’ve done it successfully.”

“We need to improve the capability of businesses, and the people in businesses, to think about exporting and to attempt to do it. It can be a scary prospect to do this on your own, so we need to try and find ways of sharing expertise across businesses from those who export successfully to those who would like to export.

“We need to get businesses who haven’t thought about exporting to start thinking about it, and to find ways of making it easier for all businesses to access the expertise that’s available from the Department for Business and Trade, and to access the advantages of being British food exporters, because British food exporters have a great reputation around the world.”

But to grow England’s reputation around the world starts with individual food and drink businesses, passionate about what they are doing, and helping to make a noise about the great things happening on a smaller scale within our region. 

One thing that Ian says really sticks out, “We need to find a way of bringing together all the very important local initiatives that exist in places – like Melton Mowbray Pork pies getting a Protected Geographical Indication, or the people who produce English sparkling wines – and to somehow harness all of that into the equivalent amount of oomph for English products along its Scottish, Wales and Northern Ireland cousins. And that’s something that FADNE can play an important role in.”