AS Wales continues to meet the challenges following the twin storms of Brexit and Covid, the fact our food and drink exports are netting a bigger percentage increase than the whole of the UK proves a thriving economy will overcome significant hurdles.
And just as the Wales rugby squad confounded the doom-mongers with a record to be proud of in their Rugby World Cup campaign, the Wales food and drink industry continues to go from strength to strength.
A key catalyst for success has been the Welsh Government’s current Export Action Plan. Launched in 2020 as part of its economic strategy, it categorises food and drink as a priority sector. The plan also links in with wider Welsh Government initiatives, such as its International Strategy for Wales, and the Strategic Vision for the Food and Drink Industry.
From 2016 up to the launch of the Export Action Plan, the value of Welsh food and drink exports grew by £116m. Following the launch, between 2020-2022, exports continued to grow, by £245m, a rise of 44.4 percent compared with 16.1 percent for the UK overall.
The three most important export categories in 2022 were Meat and Meat Products (£265m – up 42 percent from 2021), Cereal and Cereal Preparations (£160m – a 16 percent rise), and Dairy Products and Birds Eggs (£138m – a 30 percent increase). Beverages had the second highest percentage increase (40 percent), rising from £31m to £43m, while Oils and Fats had the largest percentage decrease year-on-year, falling by 38 percent from £8m to £5m.
Meat and Meat Preparations make up a substantial 33 percent of the food and drink export value, followed by Cereal and Cereal Preparations with a 20 percent share of all food and drink exports. The value of the sector’s exports to the EU reached £594m, a £130m increase from 2021, while the industry’s exports to non-EU countries were worth £203m in 2022, a large growth from £176m in 2021.
France – a nation famed for gastronomy which for generations drew envious glances from Welsh food and drink producers – is now the highest value destination for Welsh food and drink exports at £150m. Other top destinations include the Republic of Ireland (£145m), Belgium (£78m), Netherlands (£52m), and Germany (£51m).
Eight of the top ten Welsh food and drink export destinations were within the EU, with the two non-EU countries being the USA (8th) and Saudi Arabia (9th). A massive 75 percent of exports were with countries within the EU, with the second and third highest value regions being the Middle East and North Africa (9 percent, £70 million), and Asia and Oceania (6 percent, £47 million) respectively.
Exports to France increased by £50.5m from 2021, and £77m from 2016. These two figures are both the largest in the EU for their respective time periods. Meat and Meat Preparations was the highest value category at £106.2m (71 percent of food and drink exports to France). UK food and drink exports to France were worth £2.75bn in 2022. Meanwhile exports to Ireland have rocketed by £56.4m since 2016 to £145m in 2022, the second largest in the EU for the time period.
One way Wales is ensuring that food and drink producers across the nation are in the right shape to compete internationally is through the Strategic Innovation Scheme which provides comprehensive business support services. As part of this, Project HELIX, a pan-Wales strategic initiative delivered by Food Innovation Wales offering technical and commercial support, will continue until March 2025. Since its launch in 2016, Project HELIX has had a hugely positive effect on Wales’s food and drink industry by helping companies to innovate, adopt process efficiencies, and achieve internationally recognised accreditations. One of the recipients has been Caerphilly-based Just Love Food Company. Work with the project allowed for a partly funded New Product Development affiliate to assist with ingredient risk assessments. The company manufactures allergy-friendly celebration cakes, with Chief Executive Mike Woods saying: “Our turnover has grown by over 65 percent.”
Welsh Government support also helped Bridgend-based Ferrari’s Coffee secure a significant deal to supply three of its products to a major retailer across the Atlantic. Ferrari’s clinched their deal at SIAL Paris, one of the world’s largest food innovation exhibitions, which they attended as part of the Welsh Government showcase.
This illustrates another way in which Food and Drink Wales have helped Welsh producers drive exports - through organising Welsh showcases at international events, such as Gulfood in Dubai, and trade visits. Recently, Welsh food and drink companies made a flavoursome impression at Anuga 2023 – the world’s leading trade fair for food and drink – showcasing products with the aim of securing new export deals, whilst others crossed the North Sea as part of the Welsh Government’s Food and Drink Wales Trade Development visit to Norway and Denmark to explore Nordic options.
Meanwhile, the Welsh meat industry has emerged in more robust health post-pandemic. Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) reports growth within sheep meat exports, demonstrating an international demand for PGI Welsh Lamb.
For the first six months of this year, UK sheep meat exports increased by 14 percent compared with last year in volume terms, with produce from Wales accounting for a significant proportion. During the same six-month period, the volume of lamb exported from Wales increased by around 16 percent.
According to HCC, beef exports are more stable when compared to long term averages, plus there is more demand from UK consumers for high-quality and home-produced beef, with imports currently lower than pre-Covid levels.
HCC recently reached the end of its five-year Red Meat Development Programme (RMDP) which aimed to equip the Welsh meat-producing sector with the relevant information to thrive post-Brexit. Funded through the Welsh Government and EU Rural Development Programme, the RMDP focused on proactive animal health planning (the Stoc+ project) and utilising DNA technology (Hill Ram Scheme) while examining the consumer experience and eating quality of Welsh Lamb (Welsh Lamb Meat Eating Quality).
South Caernarfon Creameries (SCC) currently exports its Dragon brand to 12 countries, having launched in the USA in May of this year after linking up with Abbey Specialty Foods – who have over 25 years’ experience of working with UK producers – at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York. SCC have also gained new customers in Lithuania and Qatar in the last 12 months.
“The products have received great feedback from customers in the USA,” said a spokesperson. “Brexit has created numerous challenges, but we are embracing these and see new export markets as a key growth area for us.”
Penderyn Distillery now exports to over fifty countries, including key markets in France, Germany, US and China. In 2021 exports were 13.6 percent of turnover, and in 2022 17.5 percent of Penderyn’s turnover was generated by exports. The Scotch whisky industry exports around 80 percent of its whisky, so there are great opportunities for Penderyn to expand overseas markets.
“When we started, we were a ‘novelty,’ but when the renowned whisky expert, Dr Jim Swan, became our Master Distiller, the world took notice,” explains Penderyn spokesperson Jon Tregenna.
“We were also a pioneer in World Whiskies and when we travel the world, we claim we’re from the ‘secret Celtic nation!’”
But now the secret is out: Welsh producers have earned their right to sit at the top table as far as the food and drink industry is concerned.