Committee: Strong Welsh branding needed for food and drink

(Title Image: Richard Stanton via Farmers Weekly)

Environment Committee
Food branding and processing (pdf)
Published: 18th June 2019

“We know from consumer surveys that 8 out of 10 Welsh shoppers would always buy Welsh produce if the price is right. We need to make sure that it is easy to identify and access Welsh produce, both domestically and internationally. The challenges presented by Brexit makes this even more urgent.”
– Committee Chair, Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East)

1. The Welsh Government needs a new post-Brexit food strategy

The current Welsh Government strategy for the food and drink ends in 2020. The food and drink sector is also one of the four “foundation sectors” within the economic action plan.

There was praise from food producers for the work the Welsh Government were doing in terms of promoting Welsh produce and promoting food tourism. However, some witnesses suggested the Welsh Government has failed to fully implement their strategy or failed to respond adequately to interim reviews. Also, consultation on a new draft strategy has reportedly been put on hold due to Brexit.

The Committee concluded that any new strategy should make connections between different policy areas (such as health) and isn’t solely focused on economic growth. They also said it had to be flexible enough to respond to pressures and opportunities arising from Brexit.

2. Welsh branding is generally more beneficial to the food and drink sector than British branding

Witnesses told the Committee that Welsh branding was associated with higher quality, “naturalness” and premium prices. Protected food names/geographical indicators are also expected to be retained after Brexit – with a memorandum of understanding that the devolved administrations will be involved in administering the scheme.

Aldi reportedly saw sales of lamb increase by 25% when it switched from British to Welsh branding, while Huw Thomas of Puffin Produce saw sales increase by between 20%-33% when they dropped the Union flag for the Welsh flag.

Research commissioned by the Welsh Government in 2017 found that up to 85% of consumers in Wales saw Welsh produce as “great quality” or “great tasting”, while 78% of shoppers within Wales would buy Welsh if they could. Up to a third of shoppers outside Wales would prefer to see more Welsh produce in stores.

Nonetheless, some witnesses said using British branding may help provide a route into markets where awareness of Wales was limited (i.e. China).

3. Food processing capacity in Wales needs to be increased

Food processing within Wales was said to potentially add more value to Welsh produce; clear gaps exist, where the primary produce has Welsh origins but is processed, packaged and marketed elsewhere. Witnesses suggested consumers are beginning to grow concerned about where their food comes from/”food miles” and more localised food is likely to become popular, despite processing companies consolidating facilities in England.

EU nationals were said to make up to 50%+ of the food processing workforce in Wales and around 25% of vets. The Committee was told it’s likely to be extremely difficult to find replacements amongst locals who are reluctant to work in meat processing and abattoirs. Some producers, like Puffin Produce, are moving towards automation.

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