The re-admittance of Thailand into the EU market and the strengthening pound are two of the biggest challenges facing UK poultry producers looking to get into the food service sector.

Addressing the headline debate at the British Pig and Poultry Fair, NFU president Peter Kendall said the currency situation was a major concern for producers looking to compete with imports in the market place.

“The exchange rate and where that moves will have a big impact on where we sit on entering that market. Where it goes now is anyone’s guess,” he said.

Mark Gorton from Traditional Norfolk Poultry echoed concerns that producers could be undermined by cheaper imports coming in from Thailand.

And Mark Saunders, agricultural director of Tulip, said buyers were sat firmly in the driving seat. “At the end of the day it comes down to the buyer. We are permanently being price marked. It’s massively competitive out there.”

But panellists said highlighting the welfare standards of British produce, knowing the market and innovation were key to unlocking the potential and securing contracts over foreign players.

Karen McQuade, founder of UK Food Hall, said British producers had a major advantage, because they were in a better position to understand the requirements of the market place.

“UK producers can’t compete with importers on price, we can only compete by giving people what they can’t get from importers. It’s about getting to know your market thoroughly so you have an edge on your competitor.”

The panellists agreed that cost competitiveness would have an increasingly important role to play amid the backdrop of lower public spending.

“People won’t support us because we are British, we need to make sure we are price competitive,” said Mrs McQuade.

Mark Staton, from Brakes Prime Meats, said promoting higher welfare standards and educating people on where their food comes from could help add value to the product.

“It’s opening up your farm and getting that message across about how good we are,” he said.

Mrs McQuade said innovation was another vital element. “The biggest barrier for me is innovation. I don’t think we are as open to innovation as we could be in the UK.

“Too much focus is on the retail sector and not enough emphasis is being placed on the food sector,” she added. “It’s a Cinderella industry and I don’t think it should be.”

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