The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s has launched its Brand Britain: Promoting and Marketing British food and drink report.
Food and drink manufacturing is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, contributing £28.2 billion to the economy annually. In 2018, food and drink exports were worth £22.6 billion. Trade is therefore vital for the food and farming industries. This inquiry explored whether enough was being done to promote British food and drink, at home and abroad.
While progress is being made in some areas, the committee said it was concerned that the Government is not being ambitious or strategic enough in its approach to marketing and export activities. The food and drink industry has recognised what needs to be done to increase export activities via its proposed Food and Drink Manufacturing Sector Deal. The Government should approve this Sector Deal immediately, the report said, and confirm a timetable for its implementation.
Research shows that while origin is important to some British consumers, purchasing behaviour is primarily driven by price. The origin of food can be found on the label, but less often for processed food.
The report recommends Government should introduce requirements for the origin of characterising ingredients in processed foods to be specified on labels – for example, the origin of the poultry in a chicken curry. This would enable those consumers who prefer to buy British to make informed choice.
The Government’s Tradeshow Access Programme (TAP) provides businesses with support they need to attend trade shows abroad. It is seen by the industry as an important way for companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to promote their businesses and break into new markets. The committee therefore welcomed the increased focus on SME participation in TAP.
However, TAP spend on food and drink has declined by 10% since 2017/18. This dip reflects an ongoing trend of decreased funding. In addition, the rules on accessing grants have become more restrictive. The Tradeshow Access Programme should be reviewed urgently, in consultation with industry and trade associations. Funding should be potentially increased as part of the upcoming Spending Review, the report said.
Neil Parish MP, the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said: “Trade remains an integral part of the UK economy. Our food and farming industry generates hundreds of billions a year and employs one in eight people. Given the uncertainty of Brexit, it is absolutely essential that the Government takes steps to build Britain’s global brand for food and drink.
“What the current approach to marketing and export is really lacking is enough ambition or strategic thinking – the Government cannot afford to be complacent at a time of such grave importance to the sector.
“Those working in the sector have clearly recognised what needs to be done to increase export activities in the proposed Food and Drink Manufacturing Sector Deal. We must see the Government work closely with the industry to promote our food and drink excellence around the world.
“As our report states, market access and increasing exports do not happen overnight, and action must be taken urgently.”