Blog: How UK trade show IFE is now more international
Dean Best | 19 March 2013
SIAL and Anuga are the two titans of Europe's industry trade show circuit but this year IFE, the biennial UK trade show, seems to have a more international flavour than on previous occasions.
IFE officially opened yesterday (day two of the event; organisers wanted to respect our weekends, they said) with an address from UK food minister David Heath. Much of Heath's comments (and those he made later in a panel debate) centred on the potential he believes the UK food industry has overseas - and how the Government is trying to help firms meet their ambitions.
It was a day on which official data revealed UK food and soft drink exports were flat in 2012 but Heath - who said the "main culprit" for the results was last year's wet summer hitting commodity exports - argued the industry is able to capitalise on opportunities overseas.
However, the UK food industry has been slow to tap into the world's faster-growing economies. The main markets remain in Europe and none of the BRIC countries were in the country's top 20 export destinations for food and soft drinks in 2012.
Speaking on the sidelines of the event to just-food, Heath admitted the UK food industry was behind its rivals in exploiting the growth in emerging markets but said the Government was working with industry to help manufacturers targets the BRICs and beyond.
The international tone continued later with a panel session featuring UK government agency UK Trade & Investment, export consultants Green Seed and industry organisation the Food and Drink Export Association.
There was, however, a notable and important message from the panel: export success comes through focus. While business headlines may shout about the growth in far-flung markets like the BRICs, small- and medium-sized UK enterprises keen to expand overseas should, the panel suggested, first look closer to home.
Rob Furse, an international trade advisor at the UKTI, said firms interested in exporting should focus on a small number of markets perhaps before looking at the alluring markets of China and India.
"When I first started ten years ago, I'd go and see a company and they would all want to go the States. Then it moved over to China and now India. Part of our job is to get that focus, to come in and help you achieve one or two very simple goals and get one market right," he said.
It was a crucial piece of insight for ambitious exporters. Perhaps in previous years, IFE has seemed a more domestic event, certainly in comparison to its bigger peers on the Continent. But, this year, its status as an international show has come to the fore.
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