Andy Richardson shines a light on Wales’ exporting accomplishments

In 2017 the value of Welsh food and drink exports hit £527 million for the first time – a figure representative of a country definitely punching above its weight compared to the rest of the UK. While two thirds of such exports were destined for the EU, overseas markets outside of Europe include the United Arab Emirates, the USA and South Korea.

In the last year alone, Welsh food and drink exports have gone up by 20 per cent – this is compared to a 9.5 per cent increase for the UK as a whole over the same period. While increased trade deals to the Middle East and North Africa have contributed to this substantial growth, there are a number of key products driving this growth.

Increasing global opportunities are paving the way for export growth across Wales. In January this year Japan opened its door to UK imports of lamb and beef for the first time in 20 years. This followed the same decision on beef imports announced by China last year. As red meat is a hugely valuable exporting asset for Wales, worth £180m a year to the Welsh 13economy, this bodes well for further growth in this sector in the future.

Raising the profile
Another key ingredient in food and drink export growth has been Welsh Government’s focus on driving Wales’ global profile. Part of this approach has included the creation of Blas Cymru / Taste Wales, an international food and drink event, which brings together producers, buyers and food industry professionals. Delegates and buyers travel to the event from across Europe, the US, Middle East and as far a field as Japan to discover innovative Welsh produce, network with industry professionals and potentially explore future trade deals. This year’s event took place on March 20 and 21 at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport where key speakers included Claus Meyer of Noma and Nordic Food movement fame as well as former Innocent Smoothies brand guru Tansy Drake.

The concept of inviting the world to see all Wales has to offer is testament to the strength of Welsh produce and the confidence demonstrated by producers and industry representatives alike.

While high profile items include the aforementioned Welsh Lamb as well as Pembrokeshire Potatoes (both of which have been awarded protected designation of origin status by the European Union) there are a number of other Welsh products sharing shelf space in kitchens across the world. Halen Môn, the famous Welsh sea salt made from pure Anglesey saltwater, is used in professional kitchens around the world and has even been enjoyed by Barack Obama.

Food and drink identity
In Caerphilly, South Wales, Hallets Real Cider is securing export success on the back of a season of industry award wins, including the BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Award for Best Drinks Producer. The husband and wife duo behind Hallets now export to Scandinavia, Russia, Holland, Hongkong and Canada. Newport based craft brewery, Tiny Rebel, which only launched its first products back in 2012, is now exporting to over 35 countries and customers can be found in Brazil, Australia and Singapore among others.

Wales’ strong food and drink identity has been another key factor in retail growth – both in and outside of the UK. The country has a well-deserved reputation for producing fresh and natural produce and a recent report – The Value of Welshness Report – highlighted that UK based consumers are looking for an increase in the amount of Welsh stock on supermarket shelves. Although the findings do not represent overseas shoppers at this point in time, similar consumer attitudes abroad could lead to a similar trend for Welsh goods outside of the UK going forward. With this in mind, Welsh food and drink producers keen to explore a future in exporting should consider that a visible Welsh identity within product branding could be a very valuable asset in the future.

Trade missions
While the success and ambitions of Welsh exports can’t be overlooked, it’s hard not to consider the potential impact of future events on Wales’ booming export trade. The EU remains Wales’ most significant export destination which highlights even further the looming threat a hard Brexit poses to the Welsh economy. Two thirds of all Welsh exports make their way to the European Union. From a food and drink perspective, 93 per cent of all Welsh meat exported went to the EU, similarly 94 per cent of dairy products and eggs made their way to the EU.

But the soaring interest in exports outside of the EU is an encouraging prospect in these potentially worrying times. Up to ten percent of the Welsh Lamb that’s consumed in overseas markets outside of the EU is eaten in Switzerland, Canada the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong.

Areas of growth within the industry including alcohol free beer, craft ales and free-from products offer another avenue to explore in these new markets outside of the EU. Trade missions organised by Welsh Government in key markets including Ireland, Canada and the United Arab Emirates have been part of the plan to reach previously underrepresented markets. Going forward, it’s vital producers across Wales seek out these types of opportunities to explore such markets when possible.

In order to prepare for the tumultuous times ahead, it is crucial businesses across Wales’ food and drink industry focus on raising their international profile and have the resource, support and capacity in place to maximise exporting growth opportunities like industry awards, Taste Wales and trade missions.

Andy Richardson is the Chair of the Food and Drink Wales Industry Board, which was set up in 2015. They are the voice of industry in Wales and work collaboratively with the Welsh Government to deliver ‘Towards Sustainable Growth: An Action Plan for the Food and Drink Industry 2014-2020’. The board hold regular engagement events with industry, have held a number of highly successful conferences, delivered a skills plan for the sector and worked to develop finance and marketing capability. The board is made up from industry experts with real food and drink experience.