The House of Commons, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee has published a report on the promotion of British food and drink and concluded strongly its’ support of the Food and Drink Federations’ (FDF) Food and Drink Manufacturing Sector Deal.
The report includes recommendations on UK Geographical Indicators (GIs), food labelling and support for exports.
On buying British, the report concludes that, when surveyed, although British shoppers demonstrated a preference for buying British, they were also very price-conscious. Furthermore, ‘British’ may be shorthand for other product/productions attributes that shoppers value e.g. local benefits, fresh, authentic, sustainable. In particular, there is a strong association between ‘British’ and ‘quality’ . Therefore research shows that origin is important to some British consumers, but purchasing behaviour is primarily driven by price.
The report recommends that the Government introduces requirements for the origin of characterising ingredients in processed foods to be specified on labels (e.g. the origin of the poultry in a chicken curry) in order to help consumers make informed choices. Also for the Government to explore the potential of blockchain and similar technology to increase transparency and traceability in the food supply chain.
Research indicates that awareness of British food and drink is low in international markets. This therefore provides an opportunity for improvement, particularly if promotion is tailored to the values of each market e.g. emphasising the safety of British food in China; and more research is needed on each overseas market to work out the best way to promote British food there. It is accepted that international market research to support exports is lacking and it is proposed that the Government alongside the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) work with Food and Drink Federation’s (FDF) market research unit to provide insights to enable exporting businesses to promote and market British products more effectively.
The Committee also called for Defra to provide it with a detailed update on the development of its proposed “gold standard” for food and farm quality by the end of 2019, including what metrics it would be based on; and called for greater collaboration between Defra, AHDB, Red Tractor, other assurance schemes and other food and drink organisations to promote British products overseas.
It is stated that GI’s 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 UKs relative strength in high value food and drink exports maintaining the protections that GIs provide in major international markets should be a priority for the Government. It is stated that although GIs are included in the the Withdrawal Agreement and 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, there is no guarantee. Given the potential for the UK to leave the EU without a deal in October, the Committee recommends that 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 also recommends that the Government prioritises seeking a reciprocal agreement with the EU on GIs if agreeing an overarching if agreeing an overarching withdrawal agreement is not possible.
On future strategy, the report recommend improving export support, getting out to international trade shows. Including review of the Tradeshow Access Programme and potentially increase funding as part of the upcoming spending review. Spending on specialists and the allocation of funds to also be reviewed between the AHDB and Government but also the wider food and drink industry. Consideration also on the organisational structure and funding of the AHDB re balance between domestic and international.
Finally, the report concludes that 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. Concern is raised that the Government is not being ambitious or strategic enough in its approach to marketing and export activities. It is stated more action must be taken urgently. Support for the FDF’s Food and Drink Manufacturing Sector Deal is unequivocal. The FDF Deal proposes actions to improve exports including; a food and drink export portal, market research unit and in-market specialists. The overall key recommendation is that the Government should approve the Food and Drink Manufacturing Sector Deal immediately and confirm a timetable for its implementation.