Food exports to Central and Eastern Europe show big potential

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Food exports to Central and Eastern Europe show the biggest potential over the next decade, said Jonathan Knott
Food exports to Central and Eastern Europe show the biggest potential over the next decade, said Jonathan Knott

Related tags Europe Russia Eastern europe

Food manufacturers have an untapped source of export opportunities on their doorstop which could provide greater riches than the much touted BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) regions.

That was the message from Jonathan Knott, Her Majesty’s ambassador at the British Embassy in Budapest, Hungary. The export potential to Central and Eastern Europe was be the most exciting prospect for food firms over the next decade, he said.

Knott – who was speaking at an event organised by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and UK Trade & Industry at Westminster – said the Central and Eastern European region had 110M consumers with a gross domestic product of $1 trillion.

“That's big and compares favourably with the BRIC countries​ [Brazil, Russia, India and China],” he said. “It is a market that is not far away, it is easy to get to and it is cheap to get too.”

Economies in the region

Knott also revealed figures which showed the economies in the region were set to grow by 4.7% by 2020, a further 4.2% by 2030 and 3.8% between 2030-40.

“Again, this is comparable to the BRICs and far ahead of predictions for Western Europe,”​ he said.

Aligned to forecasts for economic growth were predictions that levels of disposable income would continue to soar in the region.

Knott said he wanted to see food and drink exports to the area – currently standing at £400M a year – to “at least double”​ over the next 10 years.

His views were backed by both FDF director general Melanie Leech and food and farming minister David Heath. Heath argued for collaboration between rival companies to share exports knowledge because: “if we all sit in our little boxes we won't achieve what is possible.”

‘Not plain sailing’

While ministers, trade chiefs and industry leaders are all singing from the same hymn sheet, Knott cautioned that exporting to the region would not be “plain sailing”.

He said UK food firms had to shatter their outdated perceptions of the region, overcome instances of corruption and bureaucracy in certain countries and compete with nations which already have a strong export history in the area.

“The joker we have in UK, though, is the support that we are able to offer industry and the reputation of Britain – throughout the region Britain is associated with quality,”​ he added.

He also said the challenges faced in exporting to the region were faced when exporting anywhere – and were often greater in BRIC countries – so should not be viewed as barriers to entry.

“At the moment we are not in the top five exporters to​ [the region],” he revealed.

“The Germans do very well and I want the UK to start catching them up. We at least want to start doing as well as Italy and France,”​ he added.

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