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EU regulations make UK a tough market to crack.

Spain is not easily identified as a key supplier to the UK's supermarkets but it provides almost a third of non-British flesh produce.

Sliced meat and Spanish cheeses are tipped as growth areas, along with Spain's fresh produce strengths, while ready meals also present opportunities.

To raise the profile of Spain as a source of fresh produce--within the industry and with consumers--generic body Foods From Spain has been working on an integrated campaign since 2005.

Picota cherries, Superior seedless grapes, plums, persimmon and Canary Island tomatoes have been included in the campaign for the past two years, while Spanish strawberries, raspberries and cherimoya (custard apple) have been added this year.

"In terms of exports, products such as the persimmon, which had a strong season in 2006, had large percentage increases in the UK, albeit from a comparatively small base," says Maria Jose Sevilla, MD of Foods From Spain.

The campaign includes in-store media, advertising and on-pack promotions, and is jointly funded by the Spanish government and the growers association for each product.

This year there are seven separate campaigns, taking the combined budget to about 2m [pounds sterling]--one of the largest national support programmes for flesh produce sales in supermarkets.

"The campaign will help Spain keep its competitive edge," says Sevilla.

Promotions for the product categories, such as the one for Picota cherries, include offers on Cava or Rioja wines, to cross-promote Spanish products. The cherry variety has a short season but shoppers look forward to buying the Picota, which is the only stalkless cherry.

Unique varieties such as the Picota help Spain differentiate itself in the UK's competitive flesh produce market Sources with lower labour costs, such as Morocco and Egypt, pose threats to Spain's dominance in this sector.

"The UK is one of the toughest export destinations for Spain as retailers expect growers and suppliers to meet high standards for food safety and quality," says Sevilla.

"There are companies in Spain that keep up with EU regulations but many southern European countries have been slower to implement them," says Adrian Pryce, MD of importer Select Spain.

"Northern Europe is ahead in terms of hygiene and traceability regulations, and Tesco is probably further ahead than all of them. Spain is still working to ISO9000 but this has gone in the UK. Spanish suppliers need to realise the UK market is fussy about this."

Although suppliers face many challenges, industry experts say the UK's fascination with healthy and natural foods will boost certain products from Spain.

"Consumers are now familiar with chorizo and cured ham and are willing to experiment with different types of products," adds Claire Roff, marketing controller at Brindisa.

The UK consumer's demand for convenience foods is also opening up possibilities for Spain.

"I think there may be opportunities in both directions for ready meals," says Pryce. "Convenience is big in both countries. Waitrose is already making inroads by offering Spanish tapas ready meals, but there are opportunities for Spanish specialists to make authentic versions to UK standards."

Importer Maritime Sales is positive about the prospects for its chilled and vacuum-packed tortillas (Spanish omelettes), which it imports in a range offlavours, including onion, bacon or Serrano ham.

"As the snacking category and demand for quick and easy yet healthy and nutritious food solutions grows, it makes room for such products within the UK market," says a spokeswoman for Maritime.

Other growth areas for Spanish food include frozen bake-off morning goods and Spanish cheese and Iberico ham, says Pryce.

"There are many independent bakeries in Spain, plus two or three large players. A couple of companies in the UK are already poised for Spanish-style bakery goods."
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Title Annotation:Spanish food available in UK
Publication:Grocer
Article Type:Market overview
Geographic Code:4EUSP
Date:Mar 10, 2007
Words:609
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