22 October 2020, 08:40 AM
  • While most major economies are struggling with trade due to Covid-19, China is recording strong growth, and a new campaign is starting up to connect UK food and drink producers with Chinese buyers
A new Chinese export opportunity opens up for indies

International trade was just one of the many areas of life that Covid brought to an abrupt halt as it spread around the world earlier this year. But while many large economies are still struggling now, China, the first to be impacted by the outbreak, recorded strong growth in trade in September, with imports rising by 13.2%.

Amid this recovery, Business West, the Department for International Trade’s delivery partner in the southwest, is launching an initiative to connect UK food and drink producers with Chinese buyers and consumers who are hungry for high-quality British produce.

The campaign, the Great British Food Programme, will partner up with Regroup China, a digital marketing agency that specialises in driving Chinese cross-border e-commerce sales, to launch the Great British Food Store.

James Monk, director of commercial services at Business West, told Speciality Food that small businesses have much to gain by exploring their export options. “We know that companies that export can expect to be 30% more productive and 10% more likely to survive. In this current climate, firms should take advantage of all the international opportunities available to them to build more resilience over the coming months,” he said.

The store will be launched in November on the popular Chinese social media platform WeChat as a specialist mini-programme that will offer sought-after food and drink producers in the southwest of England the chance to sell their products to a user base of 1.2 billion. According to Tencent, WeChat’s owner, users spent $115bn through mini-programs in 2019, equivalent to £88bn.

Simon Waring, managing director of Green Seed UK, an international sales and marketing consultancy, told Speciality Food that while the UK has “no shortage” of products that are of interest in China – especially those with a health or authenticity angle – the challenge typically lies in reaching and communicating with the end consumer.

“The traditional route of signing up a distributor might not be the best way to go about entering the market. We think that online channels are a great way to put your toe in the water as these can offer a real opportunity to give visibility to less established brands.”

Lee Hamber, a senior sales executive at Somerset-based Lilley’s Cider, which has signed up to the WeChat opportunity, sees a “huge potential” in China for Lilley’s products, due to a growing interest in cider and other English products. A recent report by the Food and Drink Federation said Chinese demand for British products has seen rapid growth as consumers see UK goods as safe and high-quality, with a sense of heritage.

The sheer size of the population was another deciding factor, Lee said. “China is the largest country in the world by population, and they have a fast-growing online consumer market that also values high-quality products. This offers huge e-commerce opportunities for British producers,” James said.

Paul Rostand, founder of Dorset’s Great British Biscotti, said China has long been a target market for the brand. “By taking part in the WeChat program, we hope to get the awareness and brand exposure to help us grow our exports in the Chinese market,” Paul said.

According to Simon, TMall, owned by Chinese tech giant Alibaba, offers another interesting route for brands to get their message across to consumers. “Their Singles Day promotion last year achieved sales of $34bn in just one day, far outstripping all of the key US sales periods (Prime Day, Cyber Monday, Thanksgiving, etc) altogether!”

For more information about applying to the Great British Food Store, click here.

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