Gavin Darby Reflects on FDF Tenure, the State of the Federation & Opportunities for the Future

The United Kingdom’s Food & Drink Federation was built to represent, champion and advise the country’s food and drink industry – the largest manufacturing sector in the UK employing over 450,000 workers across 7,000 different businesses. Since 2017, Gavin Darby has served as FDF President, working on behalf of the industry to communicate its value and concerns to UK Government, regulators, consumers and media alike.

As his three-year tenure came to an end, Darby presented a warm farewell to the Federation, reflecting on the hallmarks of his term along with opportunities and challenges for the future. Navigating through the uncertainties of Brexit while continuing to build the country’s initiatives around such areas as health and wellness, Darby brought 40+ years of industry insight to the position and served with ingenuity and energy.

Gavin Darby’s CV reflects a wealth of experience in CEO, president, executive and board positions throughout telecommunication and consumer goods industries in the UK, including a high-profile corporate turnaround with Premier Foods – one of Britain’s largest food manufacturers. His industry experience compelled him to serve the FDF, an obligation he says that industry leaders reflect by stepping forward.

For the FDF, Gavin Darby says he brought a sense of focus to the sector – one who he notes was in a great position when he first came on board, full of “energy, innovation and entrepreneurship.” Darby says that getting a  clear focus for a federation with differing members and differing agendas was his first goal – a concept adopted early and willingly. His ability to bring the FDF together to pull resources and demand change drove focus around four main goals: Brexit, health and wellbeing – namely the obesity epidemic, skills development in the sector, and exports. Darby says that the focus on a few core issues enabled the FDF to prioritise resources and so create flexibility moving forward. ‘

Brexit will be the single most memorable issue of Darby’s FDF tenure. More than three years into his service, and it’s still unclear what lies ahead for the industry. The country faces a slew of unknowns while manufacturers and distributors must wait on the Government to negotiate post-Brexit trade and other policies regarding export, workforce and regulation; but along the way, the FDF tirelessly advocated for food and drink, working alongside the Government to propose policy that benefits manufacturers and consumers alike.

Just this year, the FDF published a Manufacturers’ Manifesto that worked to clearly proposition key policies the industry hopes the UK Government will commit to implementing in order to ensure success after Brexit. Darby notes that the Federation was instrumental in building a coalition among other industry advocates and civil servants who will continue to champion the sector, even after his departure.

“I think now, while we are still to see where the post arrangements Brexit land, I am absolutely clear that the FDF has played a pivotal role in raising the profile, getting engagement with the agenda, making politicians understand, getting worst-case-scenario non-deal Brexit consequences understood, and making sure that this great industry is listened to,” said Gavin Darby in his final address.

The FDF advocated policy stability despite fluctuating politics, working on behalf of the food and drink industry to ensure the largest manufacturing sector in the country remains competitive, productive and resilient. Gavin Darby noted the Food supply chain is “much more powerful” when focused and working together as a whole, and the industry will continue its journey ahead with confidence.

In the overall goal for health and wellbeing of UK consumers – while the industry has made strides – Darby says there is still a long way to go, noting a report produced by consultants McKinsey & Co. that outlined several clear recommendations for manufacturers. Health, wellness and obesity are deeply complex issues, says Darby, but he’s been “particularly encouraged in terms of the mindset of the leaders of our industry,”, joining together to work on solutions. The obesity crisis, he says, will be an ongoing fight, but one led by determination and collective effort.

In skills and exports, Darby says the Federation used the Food and Drinks Sector Council – an industry-led board composed of businesses from every part of the food chain, of which Darby is a member – as the vehicle for providing pragmatic change. “The FDF has really lent itself to both of those issues by providing significant people, resources, energy and talent, and has driven the agenda on skills and the agenda on exports. We’ve made big progress on both of those,” said Darby, praising the FDF’s efforts in supporting and investing in the people who make up the country’s food and drink sector.

While their remains much to be done in the four focus areas,  Darby notes another challenge yet to come: sustainability, he says – especially, efforts around plastics – will be high on the agenda in this new decade.

With his closing remarks, Gavin Darby again praised the efforts of the Federation during his term serving the FDF, noting that the coalition is in strong standing as an industry representative and more influential than ever regarding UK policy. “The FDF now champions the industry, and we have a voice, and are treated extremely seriously. Perhaps the best manifestation of that sentiment is the reason why I hold this document in my hand.”

The Manufacturers’ Manifesto, he says, was a powerful tool to educate and persuade the Government to help the industry continue to work for the people of the United Kingdom; a document of which he says summarises the FDF today – focused, bold, innovative and unrelenting. 

Learn more about Gavin Darby:

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