Consumers around the world are buying into the British dairy farming story.
In this second part of Farmers Guardian’s special series on exports, Alex Black spoke to the UK companies selling cheese and infant formula worldwide.
Selling the story of British farming has been vital for the success of dairy exporters as they target markets around the world.
And the importance of working in partnership with people on the ground to help gain access into these markets was highlighted as essential to success overseas.
The iconic imagery of British family farms has opened opportunities for cheesemakers in the US and exporters were also looking to the Far East as more affluent consumers turned to Westernised diets including cheese.
And one British company was gaining from the UK’s reputation for quality as Chinese consumers’ food safety fears about infant formula drive them to look for foreign alternatives.
ENGLISH PRESTIGE HELPING TO DRIVE SALES
QUALITY was helping to build an international brand for Cumbrian baby powder producers Kendal Nutricare, with exports key to building the business which was now seeing increased success on the domestic market.
After buying a facility from Heinz in Kendal, the company needed to achieve scale quickly.
Chief executive Ross McMahon said, with the plant being ‘enormous’, the company needed to trade in volume to keep machines running and staff busy, which had meant exporting was key to survival.
Mr McMahon said: “The door to the export market was opened quicker than the UK multiples. We are trading in a small way with Asda and Morrisons now.”
After buying the factory, he said the company had consulted with the experienced staff to find the best recipe to produce. This had led to their unique selling point being the use of whole milk in Kendamil, rather than the skimmed milk powder and palm oil used by their competitors.
Mr McMahon said the ‘big players’ in the industry had shown ‘little innovation’, meaning Kendal Nutricare could mark itself out as different by its sourcing of milk from farmers across Cumbria and Lancashire.
Exports have reached markets including South East Asia, the Middle East and North and East Africa.
With stock around the world, in UK major retailers and supplying Kensington Palace, Kendamil was looking to represent itself with an image of English prestige and quality and had been a poster child for the former International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox.
“Dr Fox saw us giving jobs to local people and sourcing more within England,” he said.
Creating trusted partnerships in its markets had also been critical, finding people who understood the infant market in each country. It also made sure there was a 24/7 hotline available for parents to ask questions in each country.
“We prefer to work with an agent who already has an understanding. It is not like selling any other dairy grocery item. A lot of testing has to be done on raw materials,” added Mr McMahon.
He believed the British dairy industry had much more potential to build itself as an exporter.
“People know things are done right in Britain. People believe they can trust products from Britain. The flag is almost like a stamp of approval,” Mr McMahon said.
He said Governments in competitor countries such as Holland were particularly involved in promoting infant formula, but there was an opportunity as the countries faced challenges on their environmental impact.
“I have fought hard to get AHDB to promote dairy,” he added.
“We have a beautiful natural environment here with clean air. It is like everything, other countries are talking up the game on dairy. The English need to talk about it.”
Going forward, the company was focusing on its adult meal replacements, Kendalife, with ranges for retailers and hospitals.
“If we can formulate for babies, we can for adults,” he said.
It was also extending its range for babies, with standard, organic, halal and ‘super kosher’ ranges and weaning foods.
Cheese proving to be key for growth at First Milk
PARTNERSHIPS had also been the driver behind a major dairy co-operative’s export success, as First Milk looked to continue to build the export side of its business.
Cheese was starting to feature in consumers’ diets in the Middle East, North Africa and the Far East, and this was where First Milk was seeing growth opportunities.
Fraser Brown, commercial director of First Milk, said: “We are exporting young Cheddar in bulk, but it is being used in all sorts of innovative and market-relevant ways – many of which we would never even think of in the UK.”
“We export to more than 20 countries, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Australia, Uruguay and Taiwan.”
He said the critical thing for First Milk was creating a long-term partnership, ‘not commodity spot trading’, allowing it to access and build exports in a way which would not be possible otherwise. This was important both in its export market and in its UK-focused partnership with Ornua.
“British provenance is valuable,” he added.
“There are really only two global cheeses, Cheddar and mozzarella, and the UK is seen as the home of quality Cheddar, with trusted supply chains and food quality standards.
“First Milk’s reputation for high quality cheese and the fact we are a farmer-owned co-operative also resonate well with export customers.”
Members also benefited from the profits they were generating from exports, as a farmer owned co-operative.
THE iconic image of the traditional family farming business was the key to export success for Quicke’s cheesemakers.
The Devon-based company started exporting about 30 years ago and now exports about a third of its production, with the US and Australia its major markets. It was also working on markets including South Korea and Japan.
Exports had been ‘part of the DNA’ of the business for a long time, according to head of sales and marketing Tom Chatfield.
“We have always had a diverse customer base, so we are not too reliant on either the domestic or one market,” said Mr Chatfield.
“It is about spreading the risk.”
When talking to customers, Quicke’s spoke a lot about the old world and new world, highlighting the unique flavour and provenance of its cheese.
“It cannot be replicated,” he said.
“The heritage of the business, a 14th generation family farm – it blows people’s minds.”
He warned those considering moving into exports that it was ‘a long game’.
“You invest a lot of money and do not necessarily see a lot of sales straight away,” he said.
Mr Chatfield also emphasised the need to service relationships and understand the nuances of each market.
“The US, it is a fickle market – it requires a continuous presence. Do not just work it up and walk away.”