Over the last three years, 140 family food and drink businesses from across seven Atlantic Area regions have been cooperating to improve their capacity to export.  The Atlantic Food Export Virtual Expo marks the conclusion of this 3 year EU and Welsh Government funded project which supported trade and cooperation for food producers in the Atlantic region.

The Virtual Expo brings together food producers, importers, agencies and policy makers for a 3-day online event in late November; the agenda combines short conference sessions with business-to-business meetings in which artisan food and drink producers can talk directly to importers and distributors. A key focus for the agenda is to look at how smaller, quality-focused food and drinks producers can achieve results through collaborative export models. The event runs from 18th to 20th November.

Atlantic Food Export (AFE) was launched in 2017 to help small food producers cooperate to overcome the barriers that they face in selling to other parts of Europe. The project is co-funded by the EU under the Atlantic Area Interreg programme and partner organisations from 7 European regions, including BIC Innovation and Welsh Government. In its first two years, AFE brought food producers together to learn about selling into each other’s home markets (France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Wales and Northern Ireland). The companies got to know one another and formed export clusters to jointly plan trade fairs and trade missions.

“As with so many other areas, COVID-19 forced an urgent rethink of the project’s delivery and how we could continue to offer export development opportunities at a time when no trade shows were taking place and travel wasn’t possible”, said Linda Grant, Project Director from BIC Innovation. “Thankfully, as project partners, we were able to work together and with our local producers to plan alternative ways to develop new export markets. Since March, our cluster groups have journeyed through cyberspace for virtual missions to London, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium and Netherlands with online campaigns and meetings.”

The conference will also hear from the Welsh Government, and panellists from Northern Ireland, Seville and Asturias.  Linda further commented, “Welsh Government have supported this export project right from the very start and I’m delighted we’ll hear from a panel of speakers from across the 7 participating regions to highlight how Welsh Government has continued to support Wales’ food and drink exporters during these challenging times. It will be a great opportunity to exchange knowledge and best practice”. 

The Welsh Government’s Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths said,

“I was delighted to welcome the Atlantic Food Export producers to BlasCymru in March 2019 and see at first hand how these family food and drink businesses from 7 regions across Europe were cooperating, sharing knowledge and experiences, and embarking on their joint export development plans.  As the project comes to an end, I’m sure the relationships and trust that has developed between the food producers will continue on after the project, and is testament to the enthusiasm of all the producers and reflects that Wales remains open for business with our European partners as we look beyond the end of the transition period.”

One Welsh producer who has taken part in the project is Halen Môn.  Commenting on her experience with the project, Alison Lea-Wilson, Sales Director, said, “The collaborations from this project have worked on lots of different levels.  Taking part Atlantic Food Export has given us more contacts in the markets that we can leverage to introduce us to other routes to market.  We have also met with potential partners through the project who have been using our products in their new product development activities.”  

Sokhy Sandhu from Samosaco is another producer who joined the collaboration meetings in the different regions, including Belfast, Dordogne, and Northern Portugal.  “This project gave us the opportunity to meet with food producers from other regions and we’re looking at a collaboration opportunity with a company based in Seville.  We’ve been able to share information about our suppliers which have helped other businesses.  The project has helped us understand the different markets and what we need to do to develop our market presence in those markets.  As a producer of vegan products, we can see that the opportunities in European markets are growing and following the UK trend”, Sokhy commented. 

The upcoming Virtual Expo will feature open conference sessions over 3 consecutive mornings that bring together the learnings from the project and share insights into how Covid-19 is affecting the food and drink market in Europe. To register for the conference, visit www.atlanticfoodexport.eu

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