For nearly 40 years, exporting to destinations in the EU and much further afield have been at the heart of Longley Farm’s success. Driven by current owner, Jimmy Dickinson, they have taken the company’s luxury dairy products into totally unknown territory and in the process have secured the future, not only of the business, but also the 30 dairy farmers that currently supply them.
Innovation has been a constant theme running through the evolving export strategy, whether marketing world-beating technology to deliver frozen cream to countries as diverse as Japan and Venezuela to creating from scratch a now nationwide market for ‘Le Cottage Cheese’ in France.
In fact, Mr Dickinson says that without these export opportunities he believes the business would no longer exist. Having the option of selling abroad helped him weather the intense downward price pressure applied by his retailer customers, he says, and will be just as fundamental in carving out a future post-Brexit.
“The problem is that the UK market is too small – not in terms of the 60 million consumers, but rather the reality of dealing with just six customers,” he said. “That, and the fact that as a country we lack manufacturing capacity, means we currently produce more milk than we can market domestically.”
Seeing the world as potential customers will be vital he says, no matter how challenging the export process is. “When we first started trying to get into Japan, it was incredibly tough and the French market, although geographically close, was also a huge challenge prior to joining the single market in 1993.”
But despite the short-term negative impact of Brexit on his existing EU export markets, he is not deterred. “The EU is certainly a much harder destination than it was a year ago, but it is not impossible and it is certainly not as hard as it once was,” he added.
New technology could well be at the heart of future British exports, he says, given the need to sell such large quantities of milk:
“The drive will be to deliver innovative products for new markets, for example lactose-reduced yogurt powder for the Taiwanese smoothie market – something I have actually explored. We need to capitalise on the exciting export opportunities out there” he said.
By way of an example, he reflects on the recent Australia trade deal from a dairy perspective and argues that there is a real chance to create a valuable market there, given the poor state of the Australian dairy sector. Such is his determination that he is keen to bring back to the UK production capacity moved abroad more than 25 years ago. The time is right, he says.