Sarah Mann told Milling & Grains there had been an uptick of exports to certain markets.
“North Africa is traditionally a stronghold for French wheat but over the last three years an average 2% of UK milling wheat exports have ended up in Morocco,” she said.
Lebanon, Libya, Turkey, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates were also showing an interest in UK milling wheat and were testing samples, she said.
Saudi Arabia also represented a huge opportunity, she said.
“Saudi Arabia will stop milling wheat production after 2015 because it has realised it is better off importing as water scarcity in the region makes it less viable to grow its own crop. This is a massive opportunity for UK milling wheat and is one we are trying to tap into - we need to keep an eye on that dynamic.”
Raising awareness to a previously ‘small’ and ‘disjointed’ market
Mounting interest in UK milling wheat could mainly be attributed to the HGCA’s uks and ukp milling wheat classification system, which was into its tenth year, said Mann.
“The UK export market for milling wheat was small and disjointed before the new classification because overseas buyers still viewed it primarily as an exporter of feed wheat rather than quality milling wheat. Even in some of our key markets now we find people saying they didn’t know the UK produces milling wheat.”
Raising awareness was the key to improving exports, she said, by disseminating information about the number of varieties and quality attributes of each strain through the new classification system.
Prior to the system, Mann said many potential export markets were relatively ignorant to the wealth of UK milling wheat. This, she said was the main barrier to growth.
“We realised there was a lot of confusion in export markets about the different varieties of UK milling wheat available which is why we came up with the new classification system. It is more aligned to overseas classifications and therefore easier to interpret for buyers,” she said.
Widening the net beyond existing markets
Despite the potential of new markets, making the most of existing export markets – like Spain and Portugal -was equally important to nurturing new ones, Mann said, to prevent them from stagnating and defecting to new suppliers.
“There was risk that existing customers would get reliant on individual varieties and be put off when these varieties were no longer available. The integrity of the classifications gives them confidence to choose other wheat varieties on the uks and ukp list.
“Customers tell us that because of the strict uks and ukp criteria they know that any wheat variety on the list will consistently meet their quality criteria.”
Mann said the foundations for growth had been laid but the HGCA wanted to widen the net even further over the next 10 years, and maybe even claw back some market share in Italy.
“There aren’t many other opportunities within Europe, unless we can try to win back some market share in Italy which currently sources milling wheat from the Black Sea countries. Overall the main aim is to make sure that as many people in as many countries as possible are aware that the UK is a key player in the milling wheat market.”
Biscuit wheat to drive growth – winning business from France
Mann was confident UK wheat would continue to carve a niche in the export market, not least because of the superior quality of its uks class biscuit wheat, which contained all the functionality demanded by buyers.
“We will be focusing on building our market share with biscuit wheat in the next 2-3 years. This will help us compete with French wheat because they don’t produce anything similar - winning business away from the French is a major challenge for us,” she said.