Netting export success: How South West’s seafood producers can make the most of overseas demand

Paul Shand

Paul Shand, Head of Exports in the South West, Department for International Trade, explores how producers across the region can capitalise on demand for local seafood products overseas.

The South West’s seafood is making waves overseas. According to the most recent HMRC statistics (March 2019), the region now exports more seafood than any other region in England, with overseas sales totalling more than £155.7m in 2018.

In some overseas markets, this growth has been particularly strong.

For example, sales of local seafood to China jumped by 25.9% in 2018, when compared to 2017. This is driven in part by increasing disposable income within the country’s rapidly expanding middle class, and the UK’s strong reputation for the quality of its catch.

Many producers across the South West, such as The Blue Sea Food Company in Torbay, are already tapping into this thriving overseas demand.

The business, which began exporting its live Devon-caught crabs three years ago, has seen its export sales grow to 50% of its annual turnover. Its revenue from customers in the Chinese market alone increased by 150% between November 2017 and February 2018.

And many others can emulate this success.

As part of the Food is GREAT campaign, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for International Trade (DIT) are offering a wealth of support to help British producers who are keen to explore markets overseas.

This includes a network of International Trade Advisers (ITAs), who work alongside a team of experienced sector specialists and an overseas network in over 100 countries to offer firms one-to-one guidance on a range of issues, including regulation and logistics.

It also includes bespoke visits to key markets of interest overseas, as well as meet-the-buyer events here in the UK to help firms build relationships with potential overseas customers.

But with the opportunities that exporting can bring, there are a few key factors that firms should consider.

For example, many markets have specific laws and regulations in place that govern food and drink imports, with some specific to seafood.

Companies looking to export wild-caught shrimps and prawns – a product abundant in the South West – to the US market must include a specific form with each consignment indicating that their products have been harvested in UK waters.

This form is a legal requirement to ensure that shrimp and prawn imports to the US are not harvested in a way that might harm sea turtles. Shrimps and prawns harvested in the UK are automatically considered to comply, but all British producers must still complete the relevant documentation before their products can be sold in the US.

Similarly, seafood businesses in particular should work to source a trusted and reliable logistics partner. The nature of live or fresh seafood means that it must be transported quickly and carefully to its final destination to maintain its freshness and make sure it meets food safety standards.

Details like these – along with common export considerations such as taxation and language – can be seen as challenges by those looking to start or grow their exporting activity. But what’s important to remember is that they can all be overcome with the right research, and the right support.