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Food and Drink

Nicola Thomas

Nicola is an export adviser and mentor who helps ambitious food and drink companies fast-track their international sales growth. She supports and coaches management teams to develop and implement pragmatic strategies and plans to overcome the pain points faced by businesses as they expand overseas. Nicola has a wealth of commercial experience as an Export Manager and International Marketing Director across a wide range of product categories from cream to sandwiches via nuts! She is a Co-Director of the Food & Drink Exporters Association (FDEA), a women business leaders mentor and in 2018 was recognised as one of the UK’s Top 5 SME Export Advisers by Enterprise Nation.

One business sucess

  • We are proactively modernising the FDEA to help exporters navigate the new challenges presented by Covid-19 and Brexit.  Over the last 6 months, we have expanded our network of UK-based specialist export service providers with a tried and trusted community of in-market partners in a number of European and non-European countries which continues to grow. Consequently we are uniquely placed to support both new and experienced exporters with all the commercial and practical aspects of developing their overseas sales.

Two challenges for the sector

  • Making sense of the new global landscape for food and drink: fear of future pandemics along with the inevitable world recession are just two factors which will mean that consumers might have quite different food and drink purchasing priorities and habits in the future. Understanding and responding to consumer attitudes towards, for example,  health & wellbeing, food safety, new sales channels such as e-commerce or convenience stores - all against a backdrop of potential financial hardship for many - will be key.
  • Risk management: many companies have been left very exposed by overseas grocery retailer delistings, the collapse of the foodservice sector, supply chain challenges and weaker distributors unable to get airtime with buyers. Coupled with the potential impact of Brexit on sales to Europe, a ‘suck it and see’, reactive approach to exports in the future is not going to work.  In order to build long-term sustainable sales, companies will need robust planning to build a balanced portfolio of strategic priority markets, sales channels, customers and products to maximise opportunities and minimise risk.

Three forecasts for the sector

  • UK companies are well-positioned to win: new global consumer needs and behaviours will make some product categories particularly buoyant and dynamic. This should mean plenty of opportunities for UK manufacturers to sell existing products or develop new ones, especially as we are often at the forefront of, for example, many health and wellbeing trends due to our demanding retail environment. ‘Made in Britain’ is an internationally recognised hallmark of quality, innovation and safety so the increased global consumer focus on buying trustworthy brands from socially responsible companies should play nicely into our hands.
  • Collaboration across the supply chain: as in the domestic market, I think we will see end customers (retailers, foodservice operators), in-market partners (distributors, agents, brokers) and UK manufacturers actively seeking to increase collaboration to address the Covid-19 hangover, range management, supply chain structures, seasonal sales plans and Brexit uncertainties. Overseas customers and distributors may even be keen to prove they are high-performing partners for UK companies in order to get priority treatment if there are difficult supply decisions to be made in the future!
  • The growth of virtual international buyer engagement: the 15+ overseas trade shows we take UK companies to each year are all postponed or cancelled so we are involved in a number of virtual buyer/supplier marketplaces and meet the buyer events that have sprung up out of necessity during the current crisis as vehicles for doing business internationally. However, even when shows resume, I think these virtual business platforms will still be a crucial tool in the business development mix as they are cost and time-effective and will help to extend the value delivered by trade shows well beyond the physical exhibition dates.

June 2020