The food manufacturing industry must lead the way in ensuring the right skills are available for growth, environment secetary Elizabeth Truss has said.
Truss, who was reappointed as secretary of state at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) following May’s General Election, said the scale of the food industry - which is worth £100bn to the economy - is often overlooked.
DEFRA is preparing to launch an industry-led food and farming strategy to address issues including skills and export, as well as promote opportunities in the sector.
A working group of representatives from the sector will convene on July 16, with the aim to publish a strategy in the Autumn.
Truss told The Yorkshire Post: “A lot of people don’t realise it’s worth more than cars and aerospace put together.
“One in eight people in the country work in the food supply chain. That’s a huge number of people.
“It’s a very technologically advanced industry and there are a lot of opportunities there in terms of jobs and engineering.”
The food and farming strategy is all about promoting the industry as an employer, an investment opportunity and an exporter of quality goods, she said.
However, businesses must be at the centre of initiatives to drive the industry forward.
“We want to make sure industry is leading this process,” Truss said.
“We’ve got some fantastic companies and they need to tell us what the Government needs to do in terms of making sure skills are available, the right university courses are available, apprenticeships are available and research is joined up.”
Truss was speaking as she visited two major food businesses in the region.
The Tory MP attended the launch of Premier Foods’ £20m production line at its Mr Kipling bakery in Carlton, Barnsley.
She also visited pork producer Cranswick in Hull, which exported £27m products to China last year.
Truss said both firms are examples of the opportunities in the sector.
She said: “We saw at Mr Kipling £20m new investment. I want to see more investment into the industry to help improve productivity.
“We’re also focusing on export. Cranswick is already exporting pork to China. I want to see more of our British food companies doing that.”
The Government has committed to supporting a further three million apprenticeships through the next five years.
As part of this wider pledge, Truss said apprenticeships in food will treble to around 100,000.
She said: “We’re working with both major companies and SMEs to help them take on more apprentices.
“I really want to communicate to young people the massive opportunities there are in the food industry. It’s a fantastic industry that celebrates what’s great about our country.
“Yorkshire is a food county, with so many great products created here.”
Premier Foods’ new £20m hi-tech production line at the Mr Kipling bakery will add 80 jobs at its Barnsley site.
The state-of-the-art facility will produce 300 million Mr Kipling snack pack cake slices a year, Premier Foods chief executive Gavin Darby said, more than doubling the firm’s existing capacity.
Some of Mr Kipling’s best-known products have been manufactured in Carlton since 1975, including its battenberg cake and fondant fancies.
It currently employs 750 full-time staff - rising to 1,500 seasonally. A further 80 full-time skilled jobs will be added over the next two years.
Mr Darby told The Yorkshire Post that the investment is a “huge vote of confidence” in the region.
He said: “£20m is a large amount of money.
“We chose to spend our it here because we’ve got a good, loyal, committed workforce and we knew they could step up to the plate.”