China is buying tea grown in Cornwall and tea blended in Harrogate as the rise of the country’s middle class buys into premium food and drink brands produced in the UK. Spotting this opportunity, Liz Truss, Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has just returned from a visit to Beijing and Shanghai with a dozen British food businesses to help secure deals worth £800m. She signed a memorandum of understanding with Yhd.com, China’s second-biggest online food retailer, which receives 10m hits each day and recently sold 2m litres of milk in just 51 seconds. Truss also helped secure sales for pig farmers to sell trotters to China.
“We’re selling them products like Yorkshire Tea, which is a very British-marketed product — it has a picture of the Yorkshire Dales on the packet. The whole concept of afternoon tea is really catching on in China,” she says.
China’s growing interest in speciality foods – a market expected to be worth a potential £39 billion this year.
British food exports are steadily building their share of the lucrative Chinese market with a record £215m worth exported in 2013, up from £136m in 2012. – this new appointment is expected to see these figures grow further. To help British firms gets a foothold in this market, Karen Morgan, based in the British embassy in Beijing, has just been appointed to represent the interests of UK businesses already exporting quality British food and drink produce to China, and firms looking to open new trade links.
Milk, cheese and yoghurt makers are cashing in on the rise of middle-class Chinese consumers who value the quality and heritage of British produce. “[Milk] is a hugely prestigious product. There were lots of German and New Zealand brands there and I want to see more British companies in that market.” Britain has agreed to work with the Chinese ministry of agriculture to develop new technologies, which could lead to genetically modified food being sold to Beijing.
The minister said foreign customers wanted to buy products that celebrated British heritage, and urged UK coffee firms, brewers and dairy producers to show greater patriotism at home and see off foreign rivals: “I would love to see more prominent British branding on our products. I want British consumers to know when they’re buying high-quality British products.”
She also said home-grown coffee companies should stop aping American brands and instead do more to promote themselves as British. “Costa are challenging Starbucks in Beijing. They’re using much more British branding in China. They sell English cakes with the coffee,” she said. “What I want them to do is use more of that British branding. I think the British brand works well in Britain, too.”
British food company Cranswick Country Food is the UK’s biggest exporter of pork, producing around 500 tonnes of pork per week. The company currently sells £24m of pork products to China every year and has set its sights on the country’s growing market for top-quality UK processed pork.
Last year was a record for the UK food chain, with the industry contributing £103bn to the UK’s growing economy. In 2014 alone UK food and drink exports reached a record 150 countries worldwide, with producers selling wine to France and chillies to Pakistan.
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