'There is no point producing the best product in the world if no one knows about it'.
This advice came from Executive Director of Waitrose, James Bailey, who spoke during the Oxford Farming Conference session on trade – drawing on the parallels between trading British agriculture abroad and running a premium supermarket.
“As a retailer, in theory, I’m not involved in trade and export, although in reality, the UK grocery sector is the bedrock for British agriculture and on that bedrock you build the business that can trade with the rest of the world,” said Mr Bailey. “British agriculture and agricultural exports should and could be a premium brand.”
Now, more than ever, there is growing consumer demand for transparency in the food chain
He went on to explain the key things policy advisors should understand when delivering UK agriculture as a premium brand: “You need to know why you command a premium, why you differentiate and focus on that differentiation and continue to deliver it. You must be in touch with why your customers are prepared to pay more for the products you’re selling them. “You need to be able to sell the brand, sell the product, sell the difference. There is no point producing the best product in world if no one knows about it.”
He pointed out that now, more than ever, there is growing consumer demand for transparency in the food chain.
Be prepared to restlessly listen to your consumers and restlessly innovate to stay in touch with them
“Consumers more than ever want to know where their product came from, who sourced it and what standards those products are sourced to. They want to be able to see through the supply chain and connect with that supplier. If you have high standards and you maintain them and continue to innovate you have nothing to fear from transparency.
“There is no point in selling a brand on its merits if those merits aren’t recognisable to customers and you aren’t transparent about them.”
Mr Bailey added that no one knows this better than British supermarkets, referring back to the horse meat scandal.
“Be customer led! Understand what customers want and meet that demand constantly. Demand doesn’t stand still, and we can’t either. Be prepared to restlessly listen to your consumers and restlessly innovate to stay in touch with them,” he continued. “Quality is very important, but price and efficiency have to be part of the equation. You can’t be uncompetitive if you are competing with the rest of the world.”
Also involved with the trade session was Managing Director of Arla Foods UK, Ash Amirahmadi who called for UK standards to be increased to give a competitive edge in future trade deals.
“The really important thing when it comes to standards is that standards should be something that both privately businesses like Arla should be increasing over time and generally should be increase,” commented Mr Amirahmadi. “It is important with trade that we make sure our standards are at a competitive advantage so when doing deals, we need to make sure we don’t compromise ourselves."
James Bailey concluded: “From a retailers point of view, this (Brexit) is a huge opportunity for the UK agricultural sector to continue to develop and to innovate beyond its partners and also to provide a bedrock of increasing quality and increasing CSR (corporate social responsibility) benefits to our UK consumers which we’ll be prepared to pay for.”