An influential parliamentary committee has criticised the government for lacking ambition in its efforts to promote British food to international markets.
The food and farming industry generates hundreds of billions a year and employs one in eight people.
Trade is seen as vital for the industry. In 2018, food and drink exports were worth £22.6 billion.
However, in a new report released today (27 June), the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) enquires whether enough is being done to promote British food.
It says that awareness of British food in international markets is 'low'.
MPs who sit on the committee are concerned that the government is not being ambitious or strategic enough in its approach to marketing and export activities.
They call for more research to work out the best ways to promote British products overseas and increase exposure to British food.
Recognising this gap, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) has made efforts to provide international market intelligence, the report notes.
The levy board is currently conducting market research across both domestic and international markets.
And the food and drink industry has recognised what needs to be done to increase export activities via its proposed Food and Drink Manufacturing Sector Deal.
The government has been urged to approve this Sector Deal 'immediately' and confirm a timetable for its implementation.
The report looks at numerous measures to boost British food in domestic and international markets.
As part of this, it highlights a proposal to introduce requirements for the origin of characterising ingredients in processed foods to be specified on labels – for example, the origin of the poultry in a chicken curry.
Research shows that while origin is important to some British consumers, purchasing behaviour is primarily driven by price.
The origin of food can be found on the label, but less often for processed food.
According to EFRA, improved food labelling would enable those consumers who prefer to buy British to make informed choice.
The committee also urges the government to ensure that the domestic Geographical Indications (GI) system meets the criteria required for EU approval and is ready prior to Brexit, to minimise disruption to British exporters.
GIs provide legal protection against unlawful imitation of protected food and drink products.
They also confer a price premium on products, making GIs both economically important as well as a recognised indicator of origin.
The report recommends the government make seeking a reciprocal agreement with the EU on GIs a priority, especially if agreeing an overarching withdrawal agreement is not possible.
Tradeshow Access Programmes
MPs are calling for the government's Tradeshow Access Programme (TAP) to be reviewed 'urgently' and for funding to be potentially increased.
TAP provides food and farming businesses with support they need to attend trade shows abroad.
It is seen by the industry as an important way for companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to promote their businesses and break into new markets.
However, TAP spend on food and drink has declined by 10 per cent since 2017/18, reflecting an ongoing trend of decreased funding.
In addition, the rules on accessing grants have become more restrictive.
'Lacking ambition and strategic thinking'
Neil Parish MP, the Chair of EFRA, said that given the uncertainty of Brexit, it is 'absolutely essential' for the government to take steps to build Britain’s global brand for food and drink.
“What the current approach to marketing and export is really lacking is enough ambition or strategic thinking – the government cannot afford to be complacent at a time of such grave importance to the sector.
“Those working in the sector have clearly recognised what needs to be done to increase export activities in the proposed Food and Drink Manufacturing Sector Deal.
“We must see the government work closely with the industry to promote our food and drink excellence around the world,” he said.
Dominic Goudie, of the Food and Drink Federation, added: “It is important that the government responds to the need for increased specialist food and drink export support to drive growth in UK food and drink exports.
“Government and industry must work together in partnership to continue to bolster the success of the UK’s largest manufacturing industry, food and drink, through these uncertain times.”