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1 September 2014, 06:10 | Updated: 1 September 2014, 06:18
Up to 10,000 new jobs could be created in Scotland's food and drink sector over the next five years, according to a report which found the industry in "good health''.
Bank of Scotland's third annual survey revealed that growth in the £14 billion sector looks set to accelerate, with firms ramping up investment and creating new roles.
The report's authors surveyed a range of more than 100 Scottish food and drink businesses and found that two-thirds of companies are expecting to increase their workforce by creating almost 2,000 jobs between them by 2019.
If that expansion were to be replicated across the industry, it would result in the creation of 9,837 additional roles.
The report stated: "Scotland's food and drink industry continued to prove itself last year as an important and developing contributor to Scotland's economy. There is compelling reason to be confident of further growth ahead.''
In other key findings, three-quarters of companies in sector are forecasting growth of up to 15% in the next five years.
Exporting and overseas markets remain key drivers for growth, with 58% planning to attract new international customers over the same period.
Some 86% said they plan to invest in pursuing new customers in Western Europe, while 67% plan to engage new customers in the Far East and Asia, the report found.
But challenges also remain for the sector, with 84% citing volatility in the cost of raw materials as a key issue and 67% saying sustainability is a concern.
The report stated: "Amid all the challenges of weather, regulation and concerns over raw material costs, Scotland's food and drink sector is in good health. Sales last year hit a record, exports are climbing, and our latest survey of Scottish companies finds a high level of confidence, with most firms predicting further growth and many planning to invest and expand.
"There is good reason to be confident. An improving rate of economic growth - and the insatiable appetite of consumers for the different and the new - are powerful drivers for further growth and expansion.''
Graham Blair, SME area director at Bank of Scotland, said: "Scotland's food and drink sector is already a key growth driver for Scotland's economy, and this report gives a taste of how it will become even stronger.
"The sector has vastly outperformed the wider economy in recent years, growing strongly during the downturn, but as global economic conditions continue to improve, its growth is likely accelerate even further in the next five years.''
James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said: "Whilst recent years have taken the industry, now worth £14 billion, to a whole new level, there is still so much potential ahead of us. The industry and government are working in close partnership on a clear strategy and we have set a new growth target of £16.5 billion in turnover by 2017.
"We have a 10-year plan to double food and drink exports from Scotland and, with real momentum now, we're right on track.''
SNP food and drink spokesman Richard Lochhead welcomed the findings.
He said: "I warmly welcome this Bank of Scotland report which predicts that Scotland's food and drink industry is set to create 10,000 new jobs over the next five years.
"This will add to the 358,000 people already employed in the sector in almost 34,000 food and drink businesses nationwide.
"The expected growth is almost double the figure estimated in last year's report and highlights tremendous confidence in our food and drink sector which has been experiencing phenomenal growth in recent years.''