Quite a lot, really! But, first, we’ll front up – we’re both immigrants (British-born Hughes managed to slip into Canada back in the 1970’s and Spaniard Flavian legged it to London in 2012). As we all know from 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%. 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 free fall. For us, 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.
We don’t dismiss the impact that heavy inflows of people into concentrated areas can have on demand for housing, schools, hospitals, etc. 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 from various parts of the world. But what’s this contentious topic got to do with the health and well-being of the food industry? Lots!:
- 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 1 million per year which explains why Japanese food manufacturers and retailers are very active in acquiring complementary companies in expanding emerging markets;
relatively high immigration rates tend to lower the average age of the population – that’s good news for the food industry as young families spend more on food than older families and ageing populations come with their own problems (e.g. GDP slowing, high health care costs, eating less, etc.)!;
- local, regional, seasonal foods are on-trend and our domestic market is our most loyal and it’s expanding – good news for our food producers and retailers;
- as an aside, Aldi and Lidl have been the most likely retailers to benefit from the surge in lower income arrivals in recent times. Although, Asda and Tesco have had the available shelf space to feature Polish pierogis and cabbage rolls, and iconic Irish comfort food brands and increasingly authentic Asian fare is available on our retail shelves – good news for UK consumers to add interest and excitement to meal times;
- of profound importance, in the absence of new arrivals to the UK 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 recognize 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 at home 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.