While much export trade has been negatively affected by the Covid-19 crisis, labour shortages and supply chain issues, the appetite for the Scottish brand remains unabated and Scottish produce such as whisky, salmon and Scotch beef continues to be highly sought after globally.
Food and drink businesses have shown incredible resilience and innovation in their response to the pandemic yet, all too often, primary producers are missing out on lucrative export opportunities.
In November 2021, SAOS (Scotland's farming collaboration experts), in partnership with NFU (National Farmers’ Union) Scotland, launched the Scottish Agri Export Hub, a free service to develop new export opportunities and expand existing export markets for Scottish agricultural produce - all for the benefit of primary producers.
The Agri Export Hub is delivered by NFUS and SAOS with funding from the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership’s Recovery Plan, which is supported by the Scottish Government.
I have the pleasure of leading this initiative in my role as Agri Exports Manager, having previously honed my knowledge as Head of Potato Export Development at AHDB, and previously as head of Seafood Scotland.
Recognising that livestock farmers were already well supported by the likes of Quality Meat Scotland (who promote the Scotch Beef, Scotch Lamb and Speciality Selected Pork brands) as well as other organisations, the initial focus of the Agri Export Hub has been working with those in the potato, cereals and fruit and vegetable sectors to develop exports and make overseas connections.
The Hub has only been running for a few months but in line with the sector's strategic aims, we have focused on identifying and developing new overseas market opportunities for Scottish agricultural exports. This involves working with Scotland Food & Drink In-Market Specialists – located in key geographic locations – to facilitate introductions with Scottish suppliers.
We will add value when we are able to engage with farmers and growers that are growing, say, artisan or heritage crops, as well as those who have an element of added value to their crop, for example, malting it, or growing gluten-free crops. The Agri Export Hub works to find suitable markets for that product, in addition to enabling growers to work in collaboration with others to develop the product into something more suitable for a food service market or a retail market.
Maximising export opportunity is a strategic imperative for Scotland’s food and drink sector and the Agri Export Hub will be key to nurturing Scotland’s reputation on a global stage. There are two main reasons holding back Scottish businesses from exporting that we want to address:
The first is consistency of supply. Some primary producers don't necessarily have a surplus of product and are sometimes struggling to satisfy their own current markets, leaving them unable to look to expand to export markets. They have a very attractive product, but are currently limited by supply.
The second issue is one of mindset. There are a number of businesses that have international sales as a result of a surplus of supply rather than in a strategic, planned way and these businesses are not yet truly classified as exporters. There is no doubt Brexit, Covid and the conflict in Ukraine have added various levels of complexity to exporting.
But we are here to help. Producers don’t have to do this alone. It's a partnership. It's about collaboration and working together to solve problems, finding routes to market and dealing with infrastructure issues. To find out more and explore new export opportunities, get in touch with the Scottish Agri Export Hub,email [email protected]
Patrick Hughes, Agri Exports Manager, SAOS