The appetite for meat-alternative products is growing rapidly across the globe. This movement has provided key opportunities for The Meatless Farm, which has seen its plant-based burgers and mince reach supermarket shelves both in the UK and overseas. The Department for International Trade (DIT) caught up with Robert Woodall, CEO at the International Food Exhibition 2019 in London to find out how the meat-alternative movement is helping them grow their brand overseas.
Tell us more about The Meatless Farm and what you do
The Meatless Farm Company is based in Leeds, which is part of the Northern Powerhouse, and we’ve been developing our products for a couple of years. We produce plant-based meat alternatives, so we’re trying to replace that ‘centre of the plate’ meat item, like a burger, a sausage or mince. Our foods performs like meat, so you can make a fantastic Spaghetti Bolognese or a Chilli ‘Non’ Carne using our product in exactly the same way that you would do with meat.
What is driving the growth in the meat-alternatives market?
We are seeing a huge global trend. This is a consumer movement not a fad and it’s driven by three things; improving our personal health, greater awareness of the environmental impacts and concerns over animal welfare. The movement of plant-based is moving quickly and as a business, we are working to build distribution as quickly as we can. We believe there is a global opportunity.
What brought you to the International Food Exhibition (IFE)?
We’re here with the Northern Powerhouse trade mission delegation at IFE trying to generate retail or food service contacts. They’re the most important thing for us because they can drive distribution and they can drive oxygen to our business and there are a lot of international people at the show.
How important is exporting to your business?
From the beginning, we knew we wanted to export. We’ve always had an eye on how we can get our product overseas. Almost as soon as we started talking to UK customers, we were talking to export businesses. I think it’s always been our ambition because we want to create a mainstream scaled global brand.
The defining moment was when we went to SIAL in Paris and we were amazed at the reception for our products. That really encouraged us to export quicker. That was also where we were introduced to the services of DIT and it kicked off from there. Now we’re exporting to the Emirates, Hong Kong, Sweden, the Netherlands and we’re also starting to export to Canada as well. We have several other countries in the pipeline.
How else has DIT and the Northern Powerhouse helped you achieve your ambitions to go global?
We’ve been working with DIT and the Northern Powerhouse’s office-based advisory team in Barnsley to really get us into some of these leading food shows and to help really promote our business and it’s working very well. The first country that we exported to was Hong Kong and DIT really helped us to kickstart that export effort. They also helped us to export and to build our business in the Gulf region, which we will continue to expand now.
You visited Dubai as part of a Northern Powerhouse trade mission and received Exporting for Growth funding. How did this go?
We went to Gulfood recently has part of the Northern Powerhouse delegation and met with a lot of buyers there which has enabled us to ship to the market. They did a speed dating event with retail buyers as well as some of the restaurant or food service buyers. It was one of the best events DIT have done for us. That was a tremendous event for directly connecting us with decision makers.
What are your plans for exporting in future?
We’re about to export to our fifth global market, so we’re doing well. We would also really like to have a presence in the US. It’s one of the countries where this plant-based movement is moving really quickly, and we believe our products are differentiated and can compete over there. In all markets, we are continually looking for new retailers, food service operators and distributors to globally expand our business – please get in touch with us!
Do you have any advice for other food and drink companies looking to go global?
The two tips I would give is: I would use your DIT representative to the full and get into the international network as well because there are different contacts in all the countries and there are a surprising number of resources and grants.
And the second one is to simply – Get out there! You’re going to get setbacks on the way. It is a process of two steps forward and one step back. But by attending trade shows and using DIT, you begin to build a global contact network which you need to keep broadening and you’ll get that lucky break and that then opens the door for many more.
If you would like more information on developing your businesses’ food and drink exports, speak to one of our specialist International Trade Advisers.
Enterprise Growth Solutions Ltd (EGSL) deliver the contract for the Department for International Trade in Yorkshire and the Humber.