Taking your business abroad

30/11/2009 - 00:00
Figures released by the Food and Drink Federation last month show that UK exports of food and non-alcoholic drinks bucked the recessionary trend to reach an all-time high in the first six months of the year. But will this continue? Simon Waring, managing director of Green Seed UK, an international marketing development consultancy, explains.

Between January and June this year, the UK exported a massive £4.82 billion worth of products overseas as the weak pound made international trade an ever-more appealing proposition. There has never been a better time for UK food and drink manufacturers to take their business abroad, it's just a case of identifying the right markets and carefully developing a suitable strategy for your product to avoid failure. In the past the UK food industry has perhaps been rightly chided for its island mentality. A large and attractive home market meant that opportunities to spread business risk by looking beyond our shores were often overlooked. Indeed our foodservice industry in this country had always been acclaimed for its innovation but it's our suppliers who had been slow to exploit their skills elsewhere. This was a challenge, which once Food from Britain vigorously addressed, and which now is a key focus for the Green Seed Group and its international network. And things do seem to be changing. British food service companies are increasingly internationally focussed, while an increasing number of medium-sized businesses are successfully picking off additional foodservice customers on the continent and further afield to broaden their customer base. Those that make a long term commitment to international business development, rather than merely see a short term currency opportunity will be the ones to thrive. Looking at this year's report, it's clear that Europe was once again, the most popular destination for UK food and drink products, with its share of exports from the country at 80.8%. This was fuelled particularly by growth in sales to Netherlands, France, Italy and Spain. France was one of the highest growth markets, up 17.0% to £618.7m, driven by the growth of meat products such as lamb, fresh beef, fish and seafood. Fresh beef was also popular in the Netherlands as it now is beginning to genuinely re-establish itself at the top end of the European hotel and restaurant market. When it comes to the products themselves, this really was the year that ice cream came to the fore. The summer speciality rose 55% versus the same period in 2008 to £43.4million. Soups, sauces, condiments, soft drinks, coffee, crisps, breakfast cereals and biscuits were also up on their performance over 2008 as international consumers continue to demand these UK staples. And there are a number of UK companies that are using food service as a successful route to get their products to international markets. Quality Meat Scotland [QMS] is another organisation that has successfully expanded overseas. When the organisation, the promotional body for Scotch beef and lamb, needed to appoint a partner office within each of its major export markets, Green Seed was chosen to act as their "Ufficio Italiano Carne Scozzese" (Italian office for Scotch meat) for the Italian market, with the ultimate aim being to increase sales of Scottish beef and lamb into restaurants and other food service outlets. To achieve this, a full plan of activity was agreed with top customers such as MARR restaurant club and METRO cash and carry on a one-to-one basis. Tasting sessions of Scotch meat were carried out in the top three METRO cash and carry stores in Italy, and product leaflets distributed in all relevant outlets. Chefs were appointed as ambassadors for Scottish beef and lamb and relevant food service exhibitions attended to promote the products. Dormen Foods – a specialist in the roasting and packing of nuts and snack products for hotels – is another company that has successfully built its business through export. Initial research outside of the UK some years ago revealed potential for the snacks in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Subsequently, Green Seed in Germany was appointed to develop the hospitality client base in these markets. Hotels were approached, a corresponding key-account management system was established and a tailor-made database was

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