Region’s top food and drink firms urged to sell into China
- Credit: Archant
East Anglia’s fast-expanding food and drink sector was this week urged to cash in on the growing demand for quality products in mainland China.
Bosses of some of the region’s most prestigious food and drink firms were at Suffolk Food Hall, near Ipswich, on Thursday to learn how to exploit the growing export opportunities which exist to service an increasingly discerning, socially competitive Chinese middle class.
The lunch event, organised by Ipswich-based LinksEast and sponsored by Blocks Solicitors, was supported by Kelsale-based food entrepreneur and High Sheriff of Suffolk William Kendall.
Around 20 of the region’s top food and drink bosses, including Rick Sheepshanks of Stokes Sauces, Ric Ackland-Snow of Scarlett and Mustard, David Abbott of Booja-Booja Co, Barry Chevallier Guild of Aspall Cyder and Ian Whitehead of Lane Farm, were told how well high quality food and drink products were received in China and how businesses were trading successfully there already by building their profile online in China as well as through trade show events.
But William Kendall, who was previously involved in the Covent Garden Soup Company and Greene & Black’s organic chocolate, warned that such trade could be fleeting if it was not based on more than the current favourable exchange rate.
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“Where you are producing something that’s different and you want to, you probably can go and sell it,” he said. “The classic British export story is ‘I have run out of growth so I’ll go out and export’. People need to start exporting sooner.”
He added: “We don’t have big businesses here - I think that is our strength.”
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Host Oliver Paul, whose business helps start-up food businesses to flourish through its Cookhouse, said food producers needed to work out if they were in the “commodities” market or were specialist food producers as he felt producing high quality, sought-after products was the key to success.
Alan Pain, regional director at UK Trade & Investment, said: “First of all, it’s just the size of the opportunity and size of the market and that’s something that just can’t be ignored by firms keen on expanding.”
The region was “really strong” in the production of high class products, he said. “It seems to me the challenge is often just getting the message out there,” he said.
Companies ranging in size from Greene King to Fairfields Crisps had already managed to break into the market - with Greene King’s IPA already well known in China, he pointed out.
Chris Cotton, director of the China-Britain Business Council, said brand recognition was key, and there were “any number” of agencies out there to help break down the barriers.
There was a “real demand” for high quality, niche products, and events such as the Great British Brands Festival, a mobile event, was helping to promote them, he said.