THE Scottish food and drink sector is set for major jobs growth, according to research published today.

Around two-thirds of the 100 companies surveyed expect to increase their workforce over the next five years which will lead to an additional 2,000 jobs being created by 2019.

If a similar pattern of growth were to be replicated across the industry the study, produced by Bank of Scotland, suggests close to 10,000 workers might be added into the sector.

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The increase in employee numbers appears likely to be driven by business growth with three-quarters of the companies in the survey indicating they expect to be at least 15 per cent bigger in five years' time.

The sector had total sales to the value of £13.1 billion in 2013 with industry body Scotland Food & Drink targeting £16.5bn by 2017.

James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said: "We are witnessing record growth levels in the Scottish food and drink industry, with the nation cementing its reputation at home and abroad as a land of Food and Drink.

"Whilst recent years have taken the industry to a whole new level, there is still so much potential ahead of us."

Exporting appears key to further growth with 58 per cent of respondents to the survey suggesting they plan to engage with new international customers.

Of those, 86 per cent said they will go after business in western Europe with 67 per cent having plans to increase presence in the Middle East, and North America on the radar of 66 per cent of firms.

Assistance in marketing, brand awareness and accessing local market knowledge were among the areas in which companies suggested they would benefit from more support.

Almost half of the businesses questioned suggested a lack of time and resources were the biggest barriers to accessing overseas markets.

Graham Blair, SME area director 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 to accelerate even further in the next five years.

"Our report also shows Scotland's reputation for providing iconic and high quality food and drink is increasing the global appetite for our produce not just in Europe but in South East Asia and South America."

More than 70 per cent of companies intended to invest in new products with a similar percentage planning further spending on existing product ranges.

The volatility of raw materials was highlighted as a key concern by 84 per cent of companies, 67 per cent worried about sustainability and 64 per cent cited regulation and compliance as a growing challenge.