David Hughes column 1

David Hughes co-authors a food retail blog with Miguel Flavian, at www.supermarketsinyourpocket.com

As you may know from furtively reading the Daily Mail, Britain’s shores are popular: net immigration was 340,000 in 2014, giving the UK a population growth rate of around 0.5 per cent. That’s most unusual for a mature developed European country, where the norm is for population to be static at best but more likely to be in decline (e.g Germany, Russia, Spain, Italy); or, say, Japan where population is in freefall. For the UK, a combination of a mini baby boom and increased immigration is putting us on a track where we might overhaul Germany to become the most populous EU country.

Let’s not dismiss the impact that heavy inflows of people into concentrated areas can have on demand for housing, schools, hospitals, and, indeed, the social tensions that can result from cultural clashes but, all in all, the UK has been pretty good at assimilating waves of immigrants and this has been to the betterment of the health and wellbeing of the food industry. Why?

It’s much easier to grow a business in an expanding market than in one that is contracting – from 2020 and on Japan’s population will decrease by one million per year, which explains why Japanese food manufacturers and retailers are very active in expanding in emerging markets.

Local, regional, seasonal foods are on trend and our domestic market is our most loyal and growing – good news for our food producers and retailers. Peruse the shelves in Asda and Tesco – Polish pierogis [dumplings]and cabbage rolls, iconic Irish comfort food, and authentic Asian fare add interest and excitement to meal times.

Almost 30 per cent of UK food manufacturing employees are foreign born and the proportion working in the produce industry must be far higher. Albion under threat? Far from it! Some 13 per cent of our total population is foreign born (it’s 28 per cent in Australia and 21 per cent in Canada). In the absence of new arrivals, who would pick the produce, process and pack it, and work long hours in conditions that some might consider cold, damp and challenging? If you’re positive on the food industry, then, sheer commercial pragmatism requires you to be positive on immigration.

We recognise the challenging issues surrounding current high levels of immigration but there’s a stark humanitarian element that should concern us all: desperate, starving people will do anything to make a better life for their families (wouldn’t you?) They are unstoppable – no barrier will keep them out.

We should help them to improve their lot and welcome those who through striving for a better life will contribute to growth in our economy and progression in our civil society.