The programme, launched by the Department for International Trade (DIT) in partnership with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and the National Farmers Union, will match experienced exporters with businesses that are looking to export for the first time. The scheme is part of the DIT’s strategy to boost agriculture exports into new markets: around 97% of the food and drink sector is made up SMEs, but only 1 in 5 of food and drink businesses export.
The government hopes new post-Brexit trade deals will help reduce tariffs, support jobs and open doors to new markets. Devon cheesemaker Quicke's is one example of a company taking advantage of the US’s decision to suspend 25% tariffs on British cheese and will be sharing its exporting tips as part of the mentor scheme.
The UK has recently signed agreements with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein and is seeking ambitious deals with the US and New Zealand. The DIT added that a UK–Australia trade deal, expected to be agreed later this month, could have significant tariff-free benefits for British food and beverage products. DIT said it has secured trade agreements covering 67 countries plus the EU, worth £891bn of trade in 2019.
“There is global demand for British agriculture, food and drink businesses, with the UK exporting £21.7 billion worth of food and drink in 2020,” a DIT statement said. “By 2030, two-thirds of the world’s middle classes will be in Asia, creating new export opportunities for British produce.”
Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss said: “We’re seizing new opportunities around the world as an independent trading nation in huge markets such as Australia while paving the way to prosperity across the UK."
Minister for Exports, Graham Stuart, added: “Businesses which export are more innovative, more productive and pay higher wages.”
The British invasion
Ian Hills of Purple Pilchard, a marketing agency that specialises in championing break-out food and beverage brands, believes UK companies have never had a better opportunity to share their artisanal flair and enviable product quality overseas.
“A number of my clients have had real success with exports to the UAE and China,” he said.
Established firms such as health-minded beverage maker Coldpress Juices, plantain crisp company We Love Purely, bar snack firm Made for Drink, meal replacement solution Purition and biscuit maker Great British Biscotti have all “already made export a significant slice of their turnover pie”, he said.
Meanwhile, fledgling start-ups like the snack firms Plant Pops, Popcorn Kitchen and Simply Seedz are “quickly learning just how highly British food and drink brands are admired in terms of cult appeal, ingredient integrity and ahead-of-the-curve innovation.”
Rich cultural legacy
Overseas consumers are attracted to both the heritage and ‘hip’ factor of British firms, said Paul Abley, International Innovation & Delivery Manager at Department for International Trade.
While whiskey and cheeses offer a heritage factor, the UK is also seen as the place where new trends start. “The trends we see in the market here tend to roll out quickly to other markets meaning producers can sometimes use that early to market advantage to increase their export exposure. There's a wave of new products here in the UK and six months down the line you're seeing the same sort of trends being adopted elsewhere. There's a British quirkiness and twist to these products that people want to try.
“We are seeing a constant demand for British food and drink brands. Nowadays we see brands bringing new-to-market products that are leading the food and drink innovation space and as such are attracting a great deal of interest.”
Demand is also driven by key considerations around food security and safety. “Our brands are trusted, and end consumers know these are products provide a level of quality that makes them stand out in the market.”
Overseas expansion is often a risky and costly affair for brands though and many are off-put by regulation, import duties and margins. Abley said new initiatives and support are available to small firms looking to attract buyers from around the world. These include the Great British Food Programme, an online shopwindow where currently over 700 brands showcase their products to international buyers and distributors. This spawned the recently launched Great British Food Store – a site allowing brands to showcase their products to Chinese consumers before committing, in Abley’s words “time, resource and money chasing something that may not really be there”.
Paul Rostand, the founder of Great British Biscotti said the business has secured new business in Norway, Qatar, Dubai, Singapore, China in the last six months.
“The one factor we have had to work hard on is getting to a price that makes the retail viable in any particular country and that is not too far removed from the prices in our home market,” he observed. “Another important factor to consider is shelf life particularly when you may have a month’s shipping time plus 2-3 weeks to clear customs etc and then leaving the retailer a reasonable shelf life, so we try to make product fresh to order for our export orders.”
Filberts Fine Foods’ managing director, Mark Taylor, said the gourmet snack company is enjoying annual export growth of over 150% in Singapore. “Singapore is a small country with a small population, but its tourist and business customer base is significant as is the premiumisation of its food and hotel experience offering. Research your marketplace well and select the best distributor for the job.”