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. A £50 million trade agreement 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 China’s silk road economic belt.
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 British products with an enviable reputation in overseas markets. 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’s using to use this summer’s Olympics as a showcase for the best of British hospitality.
Britain is currently hosting competitors and tourists from 205 countries. 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.
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 exporters? 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.