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Perseverance and patience

Food and Beverage exports in Europe

Food & Beverage (F&B) executives globally are ready to expand via exports. This is especially clear here in Europe, where in 2013 the EU28 became the world’s top exporter of agricultural and food products, outperforming the United States, Brazil, China and others.[1] Exports also are helped by new technologies that extend shelf life, limiting perishability and maximising profits on exported goods. This is significant in the context of approximately 40% of the US food supply going to waste — some US$165 billion in discarded products.[2] But when evaluating the opportunity F&B executives need to be aware of the challenges they face, such as shifting regulatory environments and new labeling standards.

F&B executives' desire to expand is matched by considerable demand for exports around the world. In China and India, personal incomes are rising and demand for Western goods is growing. For example, most milk consumed in China is ultra-high temperature (UHT) treated – and consumption has risen from 18 million pounds in 2010 to 331 million pounds in 2013.[3] African countries are also joining the demand for more dairy, which is often referred to as riding the protein race. With technological developments to extend shelf-life, these markets are increasingly accessible options for dairy exporting countries. For companies in Europe (there is significant excitement in Ireland) where a decades-old quota restriction is about to be lifted, and in other countries considering less-restrictive quotas, exports like this can be a path to sustainable growth — and profits.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is also generating export enthusiasm. Currently under negotiation between the US and EU, the TTIP has the potential to be the largest free-trade deal ever. It promises to boost export markets on both sides of the Atlantic, and could include harmonisation of food standards. The US market has just opened to Irish beef, and there are further opportunities on both sides, such as  American chickens in French markets.

As always, large companies with well-established relationships, infrastructure and export experience will be in a strong position to take advantage of a liberalised export climate. Yet the unique nature of F&B, driven by fast-moving trends, offers opportunities for firms of every size. Small and midsized F&B companies with popular products can ramp-up with outsourced production and quickly have products on tables around the world. These 'mittelstand' firms (the term used in Germany for the companies credited with that country’s economic growth) hold a major advantage over larger competitors: agility.

Yet savvy F&B executives will temper their enthusiasm for exports with a dose of caution. Consumers can be fickle, and a product’s popularity can be fleeting. Regulatory challenges can also be daunting, and it's important to conduct due diligence before entering new markets – including some economic forecasting. While the US economy has rebounded, recent news regarding the global economy has been less encouraging: Europe and Japan remain sluggish, and China’s economy is slowing (7.4% growth in 2014, its worst performance in 24 years).[4] But it's not all bad news, and there are some key questions export-minded executives can think about to maximise their chance of success. For example:

  • have you accurately estimated potential demand for your products?
  • have you done a detailed analysis of export costs, including production, logistics, and merchandising?
  • do your products meet regulatory standards? This can involve costly changes to product formulas, raw materials, packaging and labeling.  
  • can you track and monitor your product's quality and safety, from growers and producers to customers around the world?

Careful F&B executives are reviewing their export plans with knowledgeable advisors and revising as necessary before expanding overseas. Equally importantly, they are partnering with people on the ground in these new markets who have the technical processes and expertise to help them succeed.

To learn more about how Grant Thornton how can help you achieve your international ambitions, download Expanding horizons today.

Ciara Jackson is national leader of food and beverage at Grant Thornton Ireland


[1] 'Agricultural trade in 2013: EU gains in commodity exports,' 2013

[2] 'Wasted: How America is losing up to 40 percent of its food from farm to fork to landfill,' NRDC Issue Paper, August 2012

[3] 'Chinese demand for dairy products spurs US exports,' Food Safety News, 3 December 2014

[4] 'China's economic growth slowed to 24-year low of 7.4 percent in 2014,' US News & World Report, 20 January 2015