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Go Global with Translation: Pigs Might Fly

A blog on pork imports.

In 1995, sales of pork fell significantly in the United States following the release of “Babe”, a hugely popular film about a lovable talking pig. Moving forward to the present day, exporters must be hoping the film never finds a wide audience in China. Meat consumption is rising in this lucrative market, with pork the most popular option. Within the past week, UK Agriculture Minister Jim Paice has finalized a £50 million trade agreement that promises to pave the way for British pork to become a meal of choice for the increasingly affluent, aspirational Chinese consumer. China’s middle class already numbers almost 200 million, and before the end of next year, it’s forecast to outnumber the entire population of the United States.

Pork prices in China are at a record high. So are production levels: China is both the leading producer and consumer of pig meat in the world, producing 46 million metric tons a year but consuming far more. In a convenient twist, the Chinese target consumer seems to have a liking for cuts of meat that the British leave to one side. Large quantities of the exported pork will be offal, trotters, ears, and other parts of the “fifth quarter” that are considered unmarketable. You might not be able to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but in 2012 it seems that exporters can make a full purse from one.

This is part of a wider strategy for food and drinks exports that has gathered pace in 2012. Rapid global population growth and booming demand for Western products in emerging economies have opened doors for a range of British producers. One month ago economists reported a record surge in Scottish salmon exports. Global sales rose by 22% in 2011, and this was largely fuelled by the growth of almost 900% in the Far East. Not surprisingly, the quantum leap coincided with China lifting import restrictions on the product.

British food and drink products enjoy an enviable reputation in overseas markets, and with effective localization and translation services, the key qualities of those products can be conveyed in sense and spirit. What’s more, there is a general consensus that we’ve barely begun to explore the market’s true potential. The value of UK food and drink exports has grown steadily over the past two decades and now exceeds £16 billion per annum, but we remain heavily dependent on traditional partners in Europe and North America. As a snapshot, the UK still exports more food to Belgium than to Brazil, Russia, India, China, and Mexico put together These five countries, which make up 44% of the world’s population, are part of a UK targeting strategy that proposes to use this summer’s Olympics as a showcase for the best of British hospitality.

Competitors and tourists from 205 countries will visit this country in July and August. Many of them will be unfamiliar with British produce, and the country may never have a better opportunity to make a positive impression.

It needs to. Britain imports significantly more food than it exports, and the negative balance of trade for the sector is an economic handicap we can ill afford. Food and farming account for 3.5 million UK workers. Put another way, for every nine people working in this country, one of them works in this sector. These people work long and hard, they produce world-class goods and it’s time for the world to sample them.

Government and industry leaders have united in a commitment to increase British food and drink exports by 20% by the end of this decade. A series of regional roadshows and networking events is underway, encouraging companies to take their products to market overseas.

But what are the cultural pitfalls for British food and drink exporters?


(1960s Pepsi advertising slogan translated into Mandarin)

This somewhat literal translation of the slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” is a prime example of the issues facing a business taking a product into overseas markets. Pepsi survived this hiccup, of course, but how many good companies have fatally undermined their export strategy from the outset by failing to appreciate the nuances of a foreign language? Last week’s article included a list of famously inept machine translations of menu items. Every day we speak to clients who’ve learned lessons the hard way. By following straightforward guidelines, it’s possible to learn the easy way.

Is your website localized? Are your marketing material and your technical specifications targeted to this new audience? Having invested time and money perfecting your product and identifying a suitable new market, have you taken that crucial final step to make sure your message is conveyed as effectively as possible?

By 2015 China, India, Russia and Brazil are forecast to join the United States in the world’s top five retail grocery markets. With a concerted effort from both public and private sectors we can be optimistic that British products, and yes, British pork, will be flying off their shelves.


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