Aquascot's Head of Aquaculture at the Waitrose Farming Conference

Head of Aquaculture Ed Ley-Wilson was invited to the Waitrose Farming Conference, where in the fish sessions panelists discussed their ambitions for the future of fish farming, human nutrition, and sustainability.

January saw our Aquaculture team engaged with the annual Waitrose Farming Conference. Following the morning session, Ed co-chaired the afternoon fish-focused break-out meeting with Andy Boulton, Waitrose’s Aquaculture & Fisheries Manager. With a ‘One Show’ style theme, the two hosts introduced speakers, managed a bit of discussion with guests and talked to the live surveys as viewers answered questions on all things fish from their mobile phones.

Beamed live from Waitrose’s Odney-based Conference centre, the pressure was on, the spotlights were blinding, the teleprompt was off-putting and the messaging in the earpieces while they were trying to present was challenging. Despite all that, we think it came across well and, with several excellent speakers and plenty of topical and sometimes gnarly information being provided, there was something for everyone.

Some powerful messaging was provided by the following speakers. In the morning session, Henry Dimbleby, Chair of the UK Government’s think tank constructing a National Food Strategy, spoke passionately about how the country needs to not only secure our food supply in the years ahead, but to do so sustainably, innovatively, and ensuring healthy food is made available to all. If you are interested in food, in fairness and in our environment, then have a read of the report.


Ed Ley-Wilson (left) with panelists

Joanne Lunn, Waitrose’s lead on all things nutrition, articulated not just what our fundamental human dietary needs are, but also how we are slowly but surely starting to make decent choices for what we put in our bodies. Red meat intake is slowly reducing and fish and plant based foods are taking a bigger share of the plate. Indeed, if we can ensure our fish is produced out on the farms in a sustainable manner—with fish welfare at the forefront of production—then fish stands to gain much of the declining red meat market going forward.

Jemima Jewell, Waitrose’s Agriculture & Responsible Sourcing Lead and one of our key contacts, clarified where Waitrose are on their Agricultural ambition. As expected, key points of interest are moving to net zero, learning how to farm with nature, maximising animal welfare and removing negative impacts on the planet from production of animal feed. Aquascot’s team faces into all these ambitions via our Aquaculture and Environmental & Sustainability Focus Group.

James Bailey and Martin George, Waitrose's Executive Director and Customer Director, provided compelling messaging around the business’s commercial direction, the challenges of the retail market and the importance of the ongoing category strategy. There were clear messages too that ‘partnership working’ works and the ‘value’ is as much about the quality of their products as it is about price.


Behind the scenes with panelists

And finally, in the fish break-out session, we enjoyed input from the following: Seafish on market growth; Compassion in World Farming on welfare; Pharmaq Analytiq on the challenges ahead for fish health; Waitrose’s Sam Ludlow Taylor on the employment challenges within the UK wild fishing fleet; and Dave Little from the Institute of Aquaculture on what ‘Blue Foods’ might look like in the years ahead.

So, as the TV lights dimmed at the end of the session and as Ed and Andy brought another Waitrose Farming Conference to a close, it was clear that while there is still much to do, we have a clear direction of travel to do well by people, by the animals we farm and by the planet that sustains us. There are many actions and projects in play, and Aquascot is at the centre of several of those sitting at the heart of the Waitrose ambition.

For anyone interested in food (that’s the business we’re in after all), the Waitrose Conference sessions are a wonderful opportunity to get a punctuated insight into the ‘whats, hows, and whys’ around why our farmed landscape looks as it is and why we eat what we eat.

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