12 May 1995

fill Continental breakfast bowls

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TRYING to persuade an Italian to forgo a mid-morning cappuccino and cigarette for a proper breakfast is not easy. That is why Weetabix turned to FFB in their bid to sell more breakfast cereal south of the Alps.

Weetabix and Alpen may be popular here, but they and other breakfast cereals are almost unknown on the Continent. Each Italian eats just 0.2kg a year, we eat 32 times that, says Weetabixs commercial director Les Comley. Other European countries are little better, averaging just 1.5kg a person a year, he adds. "But their habits are changing. There was an 8.3% growth in the market last year." That means huge potential for UK growers, export manager Chris Lee-Barber reckons. The company already uses 90,000t of UK grain; 70,000t of DNQ wheats, 5000t of Baldus and Soissons and 15,000t of milling oats.

All is processed into cereals at three Northants factories – one in Burton Latimer and two in Corby. Exports now account for 15% of production, giving Weetabix an 8.9% share of the European market, which makes it the biggest exporter of British wheat products. "Other firms have factories abroad. We export everything," says Mr Lee-Barber.

Increasing that share, especially in Italy, is not easy, says FFBs director for Italy, Paul Garrett. And it is not just the nations eating habits that cause problems.

Distribution difficulties abound. In the UK there are 40,000 food outlets. Italy, with the same population, has nearly 130,000. Most are small, family run businesses – supermarkets and hypermarkets account for only 3%, although numbers are growing fast.

There is also a complicated chain of concessionaires and agents, which adds up to a minefield for firms trying to export.

That is where FFB expertise comes in. Special use has been made of in-store demonstrations to promote goods and persuade shops to stock products. "A good percentage of the cost has been put in by the HGCA. It has played a big part in getting products into stores, a critical element in any campaign," says Mr Comley. "It has helped us achieve our objectives a little bit quicker than we could have done on our own." Last years export figures reflect that. Ex-factory sales were up 59% in Portugal, 37% in France, 23% in Spain and 18% in Italy. "Weetabix uses a big tonnage of home-grown cereals. It is exactly the kind of campaign we want to promote," says John Alston. &#42

&#8226 Leading British cereal maker.

&#8226 2000+ employees.

&#8226 Exports to 78 countries.

&#8226 Export innovation awards for cereal products 1993 and 1994.

&#8226 90,000t of British cereals used each year.

&#8226 70m Weetabix made each week – end to end a years output would stretch three times round the world.

Food from Britain in-store promotions are partly funded by HGCA levy money. They are just some of the services which FFB offers. Others include market studies, contacts and advice on packaging design and advertising. Increased food exports will help UK farmers.