Let’s be brave and sell chicken feet to the Chinese: Minister launches big drive to find new markets for British food and drink

Step change: Chicken feet could add 15 per cent to the value of a bird

Step change: Chicken feet could add 15 per cent to the value of a bird

A massive drive is being launched today to open up lucrative world markets that have been closed to Britain – and it may include selling chicken feet to the Chinese.

Food and drink is already the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, with a turnover of more than £90 billion, but only one in ten small and medium-sized food companies export at all – and even then it is mainly to Europe.

Scotch whisky is our biggest success – accounting for £4.3 billion of food and drink export sales in 2012. In the first six months of this year export sales grew by 11 per cent compared with the first half of 2012.

Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will unveil the scheme today at the world’s biggest food and drink fair, Anuga, in Germany.

The plan centres on diplomatic trade efforts by UKTI, the British trade and investment body,  to open up markets that have been closed to food and drink manufacturers.

Paterson cited as a model for future action his recent visit to  Moscow, where he successfully  lobbied officials to allow sales of British beef. ‘There are certain countries where health and safety restrictions have made it difficult for British firms to export,’ he said.

‘For example, some countries, such as Russia, have not accepted British beef and lamb for many years because of the BSE scandal. These are areas where Government can help open doors.’


Paterson said the move could open up a market worth £100  million over the next three years.

The Food and Drink International Action plan forms part of the  Government’s aim of reaching the £1 trillion mark for all UK exports –which hit £493.3 billion in 2012 – and boosting the number of businesses exporting by a further 100,000.

Also at the Anuga fair a ‘Food is Great’ marketing campaign will be launched by top chef Tom Aikens, with the aim of raising the global profile of British food and drink producers. The initiative will also feature campaigns highlighting where the biggest opportunities are for UK business and exploiting their strengths –sometimes in unusual areas.

One such potential market is chicken feet. Paterson said: ‘In China there is enormous interest in parts of poultry that we traditionally don’t eat. China gets most of its chicken feet from Brazil but why not from the UK instead?’ According to Paterson, if producers exported their chicken feet it could add 15 per cent to the value of a bird.

Turning up the heat: Tom Aikens is leading a Food is Great campaign

Turning up the heat: Tom Aikens is leading a Food is Great campaign

While help will be available to all food and drink producers, the Government is aiming primarily at firms in the dairy, meat, seafood, beer and cider sectors.

Markets that the International Action plan will target as a priority include China, Russia, Brazil, Japan, Indonesia and India.

Exports of food and non-alcoholic drinks to some of Britain’s key EU neighbours fell last year, with  Germany down 12 per cent and Spain  23 per cent. Across the EU, food exports grew by just 1 per cent – a fall once inflation is taken into account.

However, the UK’s exports of food and drink look less troubled once alcohol is included. According to the Scotch Whisky Association, 563 million bottles were exported in the first six months of this year.

America is the biggest market for whisky exporters, but demand from South and Central America and South Africa is growing. In France consumers now drink more Scotch whisky in a month than their own cognac in a year. 

Another smaller but still significant success story is Walkers Shortbread. The Scottish company began life as a small family concern but now has a turnover of £124 million, of which £50 million is exports. The company makes 500 million biscuits a year, with America its biggest export market.

Meanwhile, through the Food is Great campaign UKTI will deliver a two-year programme of activity showcasing the British food and drink industry to markets including Vietnam, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, South Korea, Hong Kong and Macau, China, the US and Europe.

And if past initiatives are anything to go by then there could be good news for UK food and drink manufacturers. In the first six months of this year pork exports to China have soared by nearly 600 per cent following a Government-backed marketing push.

Food exports to China now stand at £102 million, making it one of the top ten markets for British food and drink.

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