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Are you willing to risk the costs of not exporting?

By Bethan Grylls

- Last updated on GMT

Food Manufacture's latest webinar brought together industry experts to discuss the benefits of exporting. Credit: Getty/ArtemisDiana
Food Manufacture's latest webinar brought together industry experts to discuss the benefits of exporting. Credit: Getty/ArtemisDiana

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While 2024 may not feel like the best time to start selling to the rest of the world, Food Manufacture’s recent webinar heard from a range of experts on why avoiding exporting could be a big mistake for UK food and drink businesses.

The UK represents less than 1% of the world consumer market. If you don’t see major growth coming from the domestic market in the next three years, where are your sales going to be coming from?

These were the words of caution shared in Food Manufacture’s most recent webinar: Can Britain become the next exporting superpower- register to watch here​.

Don’t be a sitting duck, fly the nest

Panellist, Nicola Thomas, who is the director of the UK Food and Drink Exporters Association, acknowledged that while things don’t look overly rosy, “there are actually plenty of reasons for exporters to be reasonably cheerful”, ​and argued that taking the leap onto the international stage could even help to “de-risk your business”.

She elaborated: “By having a sales portfolio in different global markets, you reduce your dependency on the UK market and you’re going to be less vulnerable to changes in the UK economy. If you’re only selling here and your consumer spending dives or your category stops growing, you’re going to be very exposed.”

She added that exporting can also help you improve your general competitiveness as a brand: “If you only trade in the UK, you naturally develop the skills and knowledge you need to succeed here. However, there might be other marketing techniques or product variations which can be successful lifted in other markets [and] could boost those domestic sales, but the only way you can do this is through exposure to new markets.”

She noted that the dangers to not exporting also make you naïve to your global competitors – and while free trade agreements are a helpful and necessary endeavour for the economy, it does make it easier for foreign companies to come into the UK.

“Will you know how to compete against them [global competitors] if you haven’t encountered them in other territories?” ​questioned Thomas.

Key considerations before exporting

While Thomas raised some excellent points around opportunities for the UK, which can be heard in more detail here​, her fellow panellist Katie Doherty, CEO of the IMTA, also noted some key areas one must factor in before expanding your market.

Speaking about meat specifically, she cautioned that not all markets have veterinary approval, so before committing to an overseas market, it’s vital to undertake market research and compliance checks.

“There are also considerations, such as specific labelling requirements, ingredients, packaging and production requirements,” ​she added. “Some export health certificates for certain markets will also have a restricted scope of products covered by a certificate. So, for example, some markets may only allow muscle meat and not offal, or may allow some types of offal but not all.”

Talking openly about her own experience, Nagma Ebanks-Beni (featured in below video snippet, taken from the webinar), co-CEO of UK business and successful exporting business, Prima Cheese, added that understanding the various cultures of your international markets is another must.

“One of the most important things – apart from the prerequisites, the things we need such as customs requirements, are things such as global business etiquette, cultural understanding, market trends, and product usage,” ​Ebanks-Beni advised.

Siloed thinking

“There is a lot of benefit to exporting, but from the offset it does sound a bit scary,” ​Ebanks-Beni admitted.

“There is a lot of practical support and there are organisations out there that can help. The problem is that it's quite fragmented and all these different organisations almost sit in silos. So there needs to be better coordination. There needs to be coherence between the different organisations that we have to enable exporters to navigate and consider exporting realistically.”

Ian Wright, partner at Acuti Associates, who also co-chairs the Food and Drink Export Council, agreed cross collaboration is essential if Britain wants to become an export champion.  

“We [the Council] are there to help government and industry turbocharge UK food exports. My answer to the question at the heart of this particular webinar – how can the UK become an exporting superpower – through the work of a joint industry and government partnership.

“In the end, this is going to be down to every single company in this country that wants to export food and drink. Government can't do it. The Export Council can't do it. The only way this will happen is if the industry, government and companies individually come together to make it happen.”

The Council’s remit has come to an end and the members are primed to set out their recommendations following the general election.

Addressing this, Wright said: “The consequence of the general election is that the report, or at least the recommendations that we might have made, will not be published until after Ministers in the incoming government have had a chance to look at it.”

While he is bound by the duty of confidentiality to not go into detail on those recommendations, he did divulge some of the things the Council has been considering – watch here.

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