NFU23: Building business resilience

22 February 2023

An image of the panel on stage during the Building Business Resilience session at NFU Conference 2023

“Why do we need to create a more sustainable food system,” asked Ash Amirahmadi, managing director of Arla Foods UK in a session entitled: ‘Building Business Resilience’ on the second morning of NFU Conference.

In short, the food and farming industry faces a dual challenge over the next 25-30 years: a world population that’s expecting to exceed 10 billion people and correspondingly needs 50-60% more calories, but at a time when climate change and the need to hit global temperature targets is all the more pressing.

“It’s a massive societal challenge,” said Ash.

The NFU has set the ambitious goal of reaching net zero GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions across the whole of agriculture in England and Wales by 2040, with detailed sector resilience plans also launched at conference, providing a framework for future action across UK agriculture.

Tellingly, both Ash and Assad Malic from pub and hotelier Greene King agreed that despite the cost of living crisis and inflationary pressures, both retailers and consumers remain focused on climate change and sustainability in their purchasing decisions.

“Increasingly,” said Ash, “our customers – the retailers – are embedding sustainability into their business.”

Watch NFU23 coverage online

Assad added: “We conducted a survey a few months ago with 2,000 of our customers – and, after cost of living – climate change and mental wellbeing were their biggest concerns.”

The challenge for farmers, NFU deputy president Tom Bradshaw acknowledged, was the pace and scale of change and how this could positively feed into farm finances. The advantage for farmers, said Ash, was that much of the money is potentially in farmers’ hands – the data, the action and the proof points. “They are in our control,” he said.

“We can accelerate the change by collaborating together, sharing learning and focus by measuring our climate mitigation measures.”

Ash Amirahmadi, managing director of Arla Foods UK

Climate mitigation plan

For Assad and Greene King their climate mitigation plan means many things, including encouraging their clientele to choose lower carbon meals, reusing and recycling packaging, and investing in renewable energy.

The challenge to bring emissions down remains incredibly complex and will hugely vary from business to business. Certainly knowing your numbers and having a plan is seen, across the board, as key to the climate mitigation agenda.

“We can accelerate the change by collaborating together, sharing learning and focus by measuring our climate mitigation measures,” concluded Ash.

A theme picked up by Assad as he stressed the importance of the entire food chain working together to bring about positive change. “We can’t reach our goals without you the farmers. You can’t make the transition without the security of customers like us,” he said.

Meet the speakers from this session

Tom Bradshaw

NFU Deputy President

Tom farms in partnership with his wife, Emily, and his parents in North Essex. Alongside a small owned farm they run a larger contract farming business growing a range of combinable crops across 950 hectares in North East Essex.

The home farm is based around arable production but has also diversified into equestrian and renewables.

Tom has represented the NFU from Local Branch Chairman through to Chair of the National Combinable Crops Board.

Officeholder responsibilities 

  • Animal health and welfare including bTB
  • Climate change and net zero
  • Water and air issues
  • Clean air strategy
  • Workforce supply and training
  • Farm assurance and labelling
  • Food safety
  • Banking
  • Animal ID and movements

Ash Amirahmadi, OBE

Managing Director, Arla Foods UK

Ash Amirahmadi is one of the most high-profile leaders in the UK food and farming sector.

Since 2018 he has been the Managing Director of Arla Foods UK, a cooperative owned by farmers which is the biggest dairy firm in the country and one of Britain’s largest food and beverage companies. He is also the current Chair of the boards of both Dairy UK and IGD.

Ash joined Arla more than 15 years ago. As a senior executive in the business his focus has been on growing revenues by meeting consumers’ needs for nutritious, affordable and more sustainable dairy products, thereby delivering financial stability and returns for Arla’s farmer owners.

Under his leadership Arla has played an important role in helping to meet the challenges of feeding the nation, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. Ash was appointed to the Government’s Food Resilience Industry Forum, and he and others in the company have been part of discussions with Defra, Cabinet Office, HM Treasury, the Department for Transport and others over issues relating to food security and the role of the sector in delivering the UK’s sustainability goals.

Ash began his career at Unilever after graduating from the University of Nottingham with a Mechanical Engineering degree. He held a number of positions in supply chain and commercial functions before being recruited into Arla’s UK business in 2004.

After further success in commercial positions, Ash joined the Arla Leadership Team in 2010, assuming responsibility for the cooperative’s relationships with its farmer owners. In 2012 he oversaw Arla’s transformative merger with Milk Link. He later moved on to briefly hold the position of Marketing Director before becoming Sales Director in 2016, charged with growing Arla’s business with UK customers.

During his tenure as Sales Director Ash oversaw a 120-strong commercial team with delivered sales growth of £200 million and a 9% uplift in the company’s branded sales. Since he became Managing Director more than 4 years ago Arla Foods UK has continued to grow and now has revenues in excess of £2 billion in this country, making the cooperative Britain’s leading dairy company.

Arla Foods is owned by approximately 9,000 farmers across several European countries. Around 2,100 of them are in the UK, representing between a quarter and a third of all British dairy farmers. The cooperative employs more than 3,800 people at 10 sites across England and Scotland, and is a leading supplier of fresh milk, butter, spreads and cream, as well as the country’s largest cheese manufacturer. Its much-loved brands include Lurpak, Cravendale and Anchor butter, as well as Lactofree, Skyr and Arla Protein.

With his background encompassing sales and commercial roles as well as managing relationships with Arla’s farmer owners, Ash is passionate about building a future food and farming system that has high environmental and wider standards and at the same time is financially successful for farmers because it delivers the healthy, affordable, high welfare and sustainable products demanded by consumers.

Ash was awarded an OBE for services to the dairy industry in the 2023 New Year’s Honours.

Assad Malic

Chief Communications and Sustainability Officer, Greene King

Assad joined Greene King in May 2022 from Currys plc, where he was group director of corporate affairs and strategy, which included leading its sustainability strategy.

His previous experiences includes 17 years in investment banking with banks such as Credit Suisse and Citigroup.

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