Brand Britain: promoting British food and drink Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

British consumers

1.Research shows that origin is important to some British consumers, but purchasing behaviour is primarily driven by price. (Paragraph 7)

2.The Government should introduce requirements for the origin of characterising ingredients in food products to be specified on labels. This would enable consumers to make informed choices. (Paragraph 10)

3.The Government should explore the potential of blockchain and similar technology to increase transparency and traceability in the food supply chain. This could be useful for consumers when buying food and drink products with multiple ingredients and where ingredients may have crossed international borders during processing. (Paragraph 11)

4.Red Tractor provides an assurance for British consumers about the traceability and British origin of meat and poultry. Some efforts have been made by Red Tractor to increase consumer awareness of the underlying standards and these promotional activities should continue. We suggest that Red Tractor should also assess the impact of its logo and further promotional activities on actual purchasing behaviour rather than just consumer surveys. (Paragraph 17)

International markets

5.Research suggests that awareness of British food and drink is low in international markets. This provides an opportunity for improvement, particularly if promotion is tailored to the values of each market, for example emphasising the safety of British food in China. More research should be done into some overseas markets to work out the best way to promote British products overseas and ensure greater exposure to British food. (Paragraph 23)

6.International market research to support exports is lacking, and this has been recognised by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and industry. We commend the efforts of the AHDB in increasing its focus on international market intelligence and support the Food and Drink Federation’s (FDF) proposed market research unit. Because the AHDB and FDF support different parts of the food and drink industry, these efforts should be complementary. However, this should not be taken as a given and it would be useful for businesses if market research was coordinated. The Government and AHDB must work closely with the FDF to develop and support the new market research unit. The market research unit ought to provide insights to enable the Government and exporting businesses to promote and market British products more effectively. (Paragraph 24)

7.More should be done to increase overseas consumer exposure to British food and drink. We recognise that this needs to be done sensitively and in a way that enables nations of the UK to retain their separate identities - as has been done with the tourist boards, VisitBritain, VisitEngland, VisitScotland and Visit Wales. (Paragraph 25)

8.We are satisfied that the Government is on track to meet its target to increase food exports to £23 billion by 2020. However, £23 billion was a modest target. The UK Food and Drink International Action Plan (IAP) 2016–2020 should be reviewed and updated immediately, with a new plan published for 2021–2025. We consider that a key focus of the next IAP should be on improving export activities of SMEs. The next IAP should be accompanied by a more ambitious target for the value of food exports. (Paragraph 30)

9.Red Tractor appears to be working well as a domestic assurance scheme, but consideration needs to be given to whether this assurance scheme could be used to promote British products overseas. The Government should explore a variety of different options to effectively promote British food and drink overseas. A “one size fits all” approach will not work across different countries. (Paragraph 35)

10.Defra told us a year ago that it was working on a “gold standard” for food and farming quality. Although Brexit preparations have understandably delayed much of Defra’s work, we are nonetheless disappointed that little progress appears to have been made on this, given the importance of increasing UK exports to the Government’s economic and trade strategy post-Brexit. The current deadline for EU Exit is 31 October. By December 2019, Defra should provide us with a detailed update on the development of the “gold standard” including what metrics it would be based on. We would like to see greater collaboration between Defra, AHDB, Red Tractor, other assurance schemes and other food and drink organisations to promote British products overseas. (Paragraph 36)

11.Geographical Indications (GIs) provide legal protection against unlawful imitation of protected food and drink products. GIs confer a price premium on products and therefore they are economically important as well as being a recognised indicator of origin. Given the UK’s relative strength in high-value food and drink exports, maintaining the protections that GIs provide in major international markets is a priority for the Government. This is reflected by the inclusion of GIs in the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU. (Paragraph 43)

12.The Government is optimistic that the EU will continue to recognise UK GIs in the event of a no-deal Brexit, given the mutual benefit, but there is no guarantee. Therefore, there is no room for complacency. Given the potential for the UK to leave the EU without a deal in October, the Government should ensure that the domestic GI system meets the criteria required for EU approval and is ready prior to exit, to minimise disruption to British exporters. It should prioritise seeking a reciprocal agreement with the EU on GIs if agreeing an overarching withdrawal agreement is not possible. (Paragraph 44)

Export support

13.Improving export support for businesses is vital for improving the marketing and promotion of British food and drink more widely. The current postcode lottery of regional support for companies in England that wish to start or increase exporting is undesirable. We commend the initiative shown by the industry to improve this through the proposed Food and Drink Manufacturing Sector Deal proposal. This must, however, be underpinned by Government strategy. The Government should publish its consultation on the Shared Prosperity Fund. The consultation should include proposals on enhancing the competitiveness of SMEs, with a sectoral breakdown, including the food and drink manufacturing sector. In designing new support for English companies, the UK Government should examine what it can learn from the support provided by the Devolved Governments to SMEs in their nations. (Paragraph 51)

14.Getting out to international trade shows is crucial to promoting British food and drink abroad. The Tradeshow Access Programme (TAP) is seen by industry as an important way for companies, particularly SMEs, to promote their businesses and break into new markets. We accept that there may have been satisfactory reasons for the budget to have declined slightly until 2016. However, following the EU referendum, the Government should have anticipated the increased necessity for British businesses to access and promote themselves to new markets. Instead, TAP spend on food and drink has declined by 10 per cent since 2017/18, as part of an ongoing trend of decreased funding. Opportunities for companies to access grants have become more restrictive, although we welcome the increased focus on SME participation. (Paragraph 55)

15.Given the Government’s export ambitions, the Tradeshow Access Programme should be reviewed urgently, in consultation with industry and trade associations. Funding should be reviewed and potentially increased as part of the upcoming Spending Review. (Paragraph 56)

16.In its response to our Report, the Government should explain why the TAP budget has been underspent every year since 2014/15, particularly when the number of grants available per company have also decreased. (Paragraph 57)

17.Having a dedicated food and agriculture specialist on the ground in China has proved to be helpful for market access and maintaining ongoing dialogue about British food and drink. Diplomatic and trade relationships are built over time and we therefore expect this presence in China to continue. We are satisfied that the Government is taking action to increase the numbers of such specialists in other key markets. (Paragraph 65)

18.Currently, the AHDB funds 90 per cent of the Food and Agriculture Counsellor in China. This has led to useful synergies, but, as the AHDB is a levy-funded organisation, this means the role is essentially funded by British food and farming businesses with a focus on raw agricultural commodities. However, the UK’s strengths also lie in exporting value-added and branded products. Although the AHDB should continue to provide some funding, we recommend that Food and Agriculture Counsellors in other markets are co-funded by the Government and the wider food and drink industry. (Paragraph 66)

19.Unfortunately, too few British exporters know about the work of the Food and Agriculture Counsellor in China, aside from AHDB members. As well as increasing the numbers of counsellors, the Government should ensure that their existence is better communicated, particularly to SMEs. As a minimum, the counsellors should be identified on each embassy’s website and the new export portal proposed under the Sector Deal. They should also regularly participate in UK food and drink industry events and conferences. (Paragraph 67)

Future strategy

20.The AHDB conducts market research and promotes British food and its efforts are split across domestic and international markets. This is welcome, but also ambitious. The current review of the AHDB should consider whether the balance of funding between domestic and international market intelligence and promotion is fit for the future and meets the needs of levy payers. AHDB should assess if more needs to be done to promote to the domestic market. Furthermore, the Government should also consider the case for splitting responsibility for promoting to the domestic market from that for the overseas market, so these two, different, important markets are not competing for resources from the same pot. (Paragraph 68)

21.Brexit makes it important for the UK to access new markets for food and drink as well as maintain trade with existing countries and the EU. While progress is being made in some areas, we are concerned that the Government is not being ambitious or strategic enough in its approach to marketing and export activities. Market access and increasing exports do not happen overnight, and more action must be taken urgently. The food and drink industry has recognised what needs to be done to increase export activities. The Government should approve the Food and Drink Manufacturing Sector Deal immediately and confirm a timetable for its implementation. (Paragraph 69)

Published: 27 June 2019