Stephen Jardine: Time to tap key Far East market

THIS week, China decided it’s future as control passed to a new generation of leaders.

As the reshuffle took place, a trade delegation from Scotland was in the country to try to explore what more we can do to build market share in the biggest country in the world.

Between 2007 and 2011, Scottish food and drink exports to China and Japan rose by 87 per cent to £183 million. However, if Scotland is to reach its recently announced 2017 export target of £7.1 billion, even greater growth in the Far East is vital.

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The delegation on the current China and Japan Food Mission includes 17 Scottish companies along with representatives from Scotland Food and Drink and Scottish Development International. To underline it’s importance, the group is being led by a Scottish Government minister.

“I hope this mission will help boost some of Scotland’s household names to be global food and drinks brands on the world stage,” said rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead on the eve of the visit. That’s quite an ambition, but the Far East is the key to making it happen.

Whisky and salmon are already leading the way. Scotch whisky exports to China were up a quarter last year to £57m. The opening up of the Chinese market has also boosted Scottish salmon exports by 500 per cent.

Both these products build interest in Scotland and make it easier for others to push open the door. What’s remarkable is the sheer scale and range of the opportunities. Alongside meat, seafood and shortbread companies, there are three representatives from dairy companies on the delegation.

Until now, Scottish firms like Graham’s The Family Dairy have never entered the Far East export market, but as spending power and western influence increases, so traditionally does the demand for dairy products including cheese and butter.

David Whiteford is a farmer and chairman of the North Highland Initiative which aims to promote the area’s economy, especially food and tourism. In transit from Japan to China with the delegation, he told me quality is the key to unlocking the opportunity.

“People here really appreciate high quality, heritage products and provenance is really important. The economy in the Far East is in good shape and there are lots of consumer willing to pay for premium produce”, said David.

Scotland food and drink chief executive James Withers agrees: “Premium produce is Scotland’s hallmark and we need to use it to break into these emerging markets.”

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The potential benefits for Scotland are vast and not just for food and drink manufacturers. Experts agree food tourism is the shape of things to come and the Chinese are only starting to travel in significant numbers.