Improving the UK’s ‘appalling’ record on food exports is key to ensuring farmers receive a fairer price for their produce, according to a dairy industry leader.
Nicholas Saphir, executive chairman of organic dairy company Omsco, made the remarks at a Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum event in London last week (March 14).
He pointed out other major European economies with higher farmgate prices had much stronger export records than the UK, with Germany selling 82 per cent more food abroad than Britain and France 79 per cent more.
Per capita, Brits pay 15 per cent less for their food than the Germans, and 28 per cent less than the French.
Mr Saphir said: “I have to say Government does have a serious role to play in looking at food exports.
“Exports are absolutely vital. If you look at our export record on food and drink, it is appalling.
“If you take out whisky, we only export about £12bn-worth of UK agricultural food products. Compare this to Germany at £68bn and France at £57bn.
“There is a lot to be done in terms of codification, working together and getting our supply chain to be fair, but the only way we can get our food up to a realistic level is by finding opportunities for new customers and new markets.”
Mr Saphir, who chaired the now-closed Food From Britain, a Defra-sponsored body responsible for promoting UK food exports, also suggested farmers could not hope to extract higher prices from retailers who are struggling with low profit margins.
He claimed supermarkets have over-expanded and are now under pressure because of the rise of the hard discounters, increased online sales and people’s growing desire to eat out.
“Price has become the primary competitive advantage they have – they have lost differentiation,” Mr Saphir said.
“Low retail prices have been delivered at the expense of global sourcing and a weak UK supply chain.
“But during the same period of time, their margins have gone from being some of the highest in Europe to the lowest in Europe.
“At two-six per cent, the supermarkets have nowhere to go. Whatever we do about codification, whatever we do about regulation, do not look at the supermarkets to give up their margin to be able to support a more sustainable farmgate price. They do not have it.”