In 1995, sales of pork fell significantly in the United States following the release of “Babe”, a hugely popular film about a lovable talking pig.  Moving forward to the present day, British exporters must be hoping the film never finds a wide audience in China.  Meat consumption is rising in this lucrative market, with pork the most popular option.  Within the past week, UK Agriculture Minister Jim Paice has finalised a £50 million trade agreement which promises to pave the way for British pork to become a meal of choice for the increasingly affluent, aspirational Chinese consumer. China’s middle class already numbers almost 200 million, and before the end of next year it’s forecast to outnumber the entire population of the Unites States.

Pork prices in China are at a record high.  So are production levels: China is both the leading producer and consumer of pig meat in the world, producing 46 million metric tons a year but consuming far more.  In a convenient twist, the Chinese target consumer seems to have a liking for cuts of meat that the British leave to one side.  Large quantities of the exported pork will be offal, trotters, ears and other parts of the “fifth quarter” that are considered unmarketable in the UK.  You might not be able to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but in 2012 it seems that British exporters can make a full purse from one.

This is part of a wider strategy for food and drink exports that has gathered pace in 2012.  Rapid global population growth and booming demand for Western products in emerging economies has opened doors for a range of British producers.  One month ago economists reported a record surge in Scottish salmon exports.  Global sales rose by 22% in 2011, and this was largely fuelled by growth of almost 900% in the Far East. Not surprisingly, the quantum leap coincided with China lifting import restrictions on the product.

British food and drink products enjoy an enviable reputation in overseas markets, and with effective localisation and translation services, the key qualities of those products can be conveyed in sense and spirit.  What’s more, there is a general consensus that we’ve barely begun to explore the market’s true potential. The value of UK food and drink exports has grown steadily over the past two decades and now exceeds £16 billion per annum, but we remain heavily dependent on traditional partners in Europe and north America.  As a snapshot, the UK still exports more food to Belgium than to Brazil, Russia, India, China and Mexico put together These five countries, which make up 44% of the world’s population, are part of a UK targeting strategy that proposes to use this summer’s Olympics as a showcase for the best of British hospitality.

Competitors and tourists from 205 countries will visit this country in July and August.  Many of them will be unfamiliar with British produce, and the country may never have a better opportunity to make a positive impression.

It needs to. Britain imports significantly more food than it exports, and the negative balance of trade for the sector is an economic handicap we can ill afford. Food and farming accounts for 3.5 million UK workers.  Put another way, for every nine people working in this country, one of them works in this sector.  These people work long and hard, they produce world class goods and it’s time for the world to sample them.

Government and industry leaders have united in a commitment to increase British food and drink exports by 20% by the end of this decade.  A series of regional road shows and networking events is underway, encouraging companies to take their products to market overseas.

But what are the cultural pitfalls for British food and drink exporters?

“PEPSI BRINGS YOUR ANCESTORS BACK FROM THE DEAD”
(1960s Pepsi advertising slogan translated into Mandarin)

This somewhat literal translation of the slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” is a prime example of the issues facing a business taking a product into overseas markets.  Pepsi survived this hiccup, of course, but how many good companies have fatally undermined their export strategy from the outset by failing to appreciate the nuances of a foreign language? Last week’s article included a list of famously inept machine translations of menu items.  Every day we speak to clients who’ve learned lessons the hard way.  By following straightforward guidelines, it’s possible to learn the easy way.

Is your website localised?  Are your marketing material and your technical specifications targeted to this new audience? Having invested time and money perfecting your product and identifying a suitable new market, have you taken that crucial final step to make sure your message is conveyed as effectively as possible?

By 2015 China, India, Russia and Brazil are forecast to join the United States in the world’s top five retail grocery markets.  With a concerted effort from both public and private sectors we can be optimistic that British products, and yes, British pork, will be flying off their shelves.

DAVID JONES

 

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  • Paul Chammings

    If you’re going to talk about food and beverage exports you should give an honourable mention to whiskey, which does more than anything to keep Scottish exports afloat. If Scotland ever does become independent, its trade strategy will surely be built around the hard stuff.

  • Linda Kelleher

    We certainly could do with a big bounce in 2012 because the trade gap for F&B has never been wider. Couple of points arising here:
    1. Pork might well become the headline if things progress as we hope with China but for the moment beef exports are more impressive.
    2. Still far too dependent on the EU for this sector (and many others)
    3. China might choose to import more of our products or they might just cut out the middleman and buy out our brands (eg Weetabix)

  • Adele Marinescu

    Its your good fortune that British food exports and farmers don’t have the reputation some other countries have of providing food of lower quality and sometimes even harmful. I will name no names but some of these “emerging markets” have exported products that do not belong on the retail shelves of ANY country.

  • Thanks for the comments. Paul, I share your positive views on Scotch (in several senses). For us to have a F&B item that’s so well regarded and identifiable globally by a single syllable is a nice position to be in.

    Linda I agree that beef is the key driver at the moment but the way our salmon exports went through the roof once China lifted restrictions makes me optimistic for pork sales over the next 12 months. Hopefully that will also help to address the point you make about us being too dependent on our EU partners. I agree with that (given the stats I could hardly disagree) but there’s been a concerted effort to engage emerging economies this year.

    Adele, I agree that Britain is in an enviable position regarding our reputation as a F&B exporter. Not a matter of luck so much as a huge amount of hard work from suppliers and constant diligence from our quality regulators.