Paterson told the Food and Drink Federation president’s reception last month: “As a government, I would like to stress, we spend £2bn of taxpayers’ money on food through public agencies – schools, hospitals and prisons. And we are determined to work with you to ensure that money is recirculated back into your businesses.”
Paterson described stepping up purchases of British food as aiming for “a sitting target”, citing the example of Chester hospital, near his North Shropshire constituency. “Chester hospital buys 92% of its food locally. Because it is buying good, nutritious, local food, it has dropped its purchases of protein drinks. So, this is a real win for us all.”
‘Help with exports’
Up to 24% of the food eaten in Britain was imported but could be produced here, he said. He cited Müller’s new butter plant, which opened in Shropshire last month. “Müller’s £17M butter plant means that instead of having to drop 90,000t of cream on the world market, it will convert it into 45,000t of butter, consumed here to beat off imports and help with exports.”
Paterson also said his team at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs would support British food and drink exporters in competitive markets.
“We really want to work with you,” said Paterson. “We are fully conscious that we can open doors and then it is up to you. But if you have any paperwork problems, maybe veterinary or health certificate problems, our man [team] is there to help.”
Meanwhile, after joining recent trade delegations to Russia and China, Paterson urged UK food and drink firms not to underestimate “the fantastic opportunities in these export markets”. The recent deal to open up the Russian market to British beef and lamb alone could be worth £100M over the next three years, he said.
But it was China that held some of the most exciting opportunities, thanks to the scale of planned expansion in the nation’s food processing, said Paterson.
China is currently processing 500,000t of dairy products but it plans to boost production to 3Mt within the next 10 years. Over the same period, it plans to increase pig processing from 2M pigs to 10M pigs and poultry from 150M poultry to 2bn – mainly chicken and ducks.