The big impact of SMEs​

Published: 16/11/2020

FoodDrinkEurope spoke to Gonzalo Guillén Benjumea, Managing Director and CEO of Acesur, to find out more about SMEs in the food and drink industry. He is writing in his capacity as FoodDrinkEurope’s Board Champion for SMEs.

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are the beating heart of the European economy. They represent 99% of all businesses in the EU, employ around 100m people, and generate more than half of Europe’s GDP.

In the food and drink industry, we count over 290,000 SMEs among our ranks and between them, they employ around 60% of the industry’s workforce, that’s a whopping 2.8m people.

In total, Europe’s food and drink SMEs generate over half a trillion euros in turnover, with €105bn in value-added, that’s the definition of small scale, big impact!

And it is this big impact, that we need to develop and defend.

SMEs are intimately linked with their local communities supporting farmers, manufacturers, retailers, hotels and cafes as well as many more industries indirectly. They play an essential part in our economy, in our culture and our environment.

Covid-19 puts SMEs and jobs at risk

Given their importance, the impact of Covid-19 on our SMEs should be taken seriously. Twelve months into the pandemic, many SMEs are struggling, in particular those supplying to the hospitality, tourism and leisure sectors.

EU consumers spend approximately one third of their food and drink budget in restaurants, bars and cafés, so it is devastating for the SMEs supplying those businesses when doors are closed and orders reduced.

Without immediate and effective help, many of these SMEs will go out of business and many more will find it hard to survive the coming months. Putting jobs and livelihoods in the food and drink industry at stake.

Compounding this, some European member states have unilaterally restricted the movement of workers, goods and services across borders, jeopardising the integrity of the Single Market.

It is right that the European Union and its members are considering all options to stop the spread of the disease and limit its impact. However, countries should resist the temptation to enforce unilateral restrictions, adopting so-called ‘gastro-nationalism’.

The EU Single Market is a doorway to endless opportunities for Europe’s SMEs and its integrity is vital for all European businesses, not just SMEs.

SMEs committed to sustainability

The SMEs in the food and drink industry are committed to the transition towards more sustainable food systems.

With the EU’s new Farm to Fork Strategy at the core of this transition, its success will depend on the extent to which all actors, especially food and drink SMEs, will not only be environmentally and socially sustainable – but whether they will also be able to sustain themselves economically.

The transition towards more sustainable food systems will come with cost, in particular for SMEs, and will require huge private investment in new assets as well as research and innovation. SMEs, along with all businesses, will rely on a workforce with the proper skills to unlock this transition.

It is welcome that the EU SME Strategy, as part of the EU Industrial Strategy Package, recognises the unique situation of SMEs, including in the food sector, and commits to supporting them in the uptake of digital technologies and in transitioning to a greener, more sustainable industry.

Ultimately, we need to support our SMEs, this we all know to be true but it’s another thing to put it into practice.

I sincerely hope that EU and national policymakers can put SMEs at the centre of their Covid-19 recovery plan and facilitate their transition towards truly sustainable food systems.