Carol Ford describes herself as an apple and pear polisher at award-winning UK top-fruit grower and supplier AC Goatham & Son. In fact, not only is Carol the company's commercial director, she’s a fresh-produce professional with more than 20 years’ experience the length and breadth of the supply chain from retail buying to growing and from pears to peppers. In this opinion post she tackles the subject of UK produce exports
A commonly held view is that the UK grower does not export enough. However, much depends on who you are and what your ambition is. At AC Goatham & Son the possibility of exporting is an opportunity to look at what else is out there.
Lots of growers overseas that I have spoken to see the whole world as their marketplace. That is how we see it too; if we grow a good product then why shouldn’t we be able to offer it to other countries rather than just our own?
In the UK we need to take a more open view rather than limiting ourselves to just one market and getting caught up in thinking we have to supply just the UK market. We have some of the best standards in the world and the quality we produce here is second to none so why shouldn’t we explore exporting?
In China, the Middle East and Latin America, for example, growing numbers of the population have aspirations for British brands. There is already an implicit quality message in our national identity and associated with our national flag if you look at brands such as British Airways, Burberry or Virgin Atlantic. And if these brands are there then why not Great British fruit and veg? If there’s value you can add to a market, then why not?
A lot of our UK production is destined for the own-label market, whereas overseas markets present an opportunity to brand because the marketplace in a lot of countries is different to the UK. So if you have belief in what you do and your unique selling point, then you have an opportunity to brand that you do not have here. Look at what Greenvale and Albert Bartlett have achieved in the UK; I believe there are opportunities to do that in overseas territories.
Particular produce lines are not a barrier to export either. We already import everything we can grow here ourselves so I believe we can export anything that we produce here. It is more a question of whether exporting that particular line is right for that particular company. Think about it; we import strawberries, but we grow the best tasting everbearers right here.
Looking at other markets will help the sustainability of British produce and make British businesses more viable. It will help spread the risk.
The domestic market is only increasing because the population is growing, not because we are increasing consumption per capita. So if demand for home-grown produce in our market does not change and producers want to grow more, then we will have to find export markets. And if our market does not want our produce and would rather have fruit or vegetables from Poland or Spain, then we need to be looking at other markets.
Changes in the UK marketplace are down to consumers, not buyers. If UK consumers don’t hold store in Great British produce anymore, then the market will only go one way. So why not investigate other opportunities?
These could be in other countries to fill gaps in the market around their domestic production. And for some companies in the UK this could mean near-market opportunities, while for others it could be further afield during the counter-season in the southern hemisphere, for example.
Exporting is not an easy thing to do – anything that is worth doing is not going to be easy.
But there is help available; from government organisations, from grower associations and from the Fresh Produce Consortium which is a really good resource. You have to be prepared to do the leg-work, the research into finding the right markets, and all the due diligence though – there is no short-term fix.
At AC Goatham & Sons we are looking at exporting both independently and in collaboration with others. People think there is a shyness in talking about exporting with other producers, but I have found other companies happy to have those conversations with me.
We are still doing our research, but I believe there will have to be collaboration in exporting.
A lot more collaboration could happen in the fresh-produce industry in the UK in general. However, here we are often afraid of our neighbours – our fellow growers – and see them as competition when, in fact, competition is just as much from other product lines. As an apple grower we compete for shelf space with banana growers, stonefruit growers and convenience food manufacturers.
We are living in a global village, so let’s look at it like that. We are looking seriously at export markets at AC Goatham & Son, which is why we were at Fruit Logistica this year.
It is why we are very focused on the London Produce Show and Conference. We want to meet other people that are in the global village, who want fantastic British produce in their mix. We want to network with them and show them our fantastic Great British apples and pears, and that is why we will be at the London Produce Show.