By Doug Ohlemeier, The Packer

To boost Florida's produce exports to the United Kingdom, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is offering a new marketing tool to help shippers enter that growing market.

The department has issued a report showing what the agency is doing to increase sales in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The report, released in late June, provides insight on the market, major retail chains, its shoppers and their buying power.

The U.K., the second-largest European buyer of Florida agricultural products, has doubled its purchases of all Florida products during the last decade.

In produce, the U.K. increased its purchases from $8.9 million in 2003 to $19.1 million in 2006, says Dan Sleep, a senior analyst with the agency's division of marketing.

Florida shippers have moved millions of dollars of sweet corn and grapefruit to the U.K., he says. The department hopes for similar results to what the agency did with Canada, where Florida produce purchases increased from $290 million in 2003 to $438 million in 2006, Sleep says.

"The report should shed some light on someone who is skeptical or maybe not ready or on the edge of doing something," Sleep says. "Now they have a bonafide way to look at things."

The Homestead Pole Bean Cooperative Inc., Homestead, has shipped corn to the U.K. since 2003.

The co-op ships four to five containers a week to the country during peak season, says Emilio Mirzakhani, general manager.

"Any knowledge of other countries, how the market works, and how we can increase our exports will help any packinghouse anywhere in the U.S.," he says.

U.K. consumers buy imported products regularly, and the U.K. imports about 40 percent of its food. The report also notes that the United States remains a popular destination for U.K. tourists and that U.S. products maintain a strong brand image amongst U.K. buyers.

Diversified Citrus Marketing, Lake Hamilton, the marketing arm of the Dundee Citrus Growers Association, used to export more grapefruit to the U.K. four years ago. Diversified sells more to the Netherlands, France and Japan, said Bobby Bawcum, Diversified's president.

"Anything they can do to help us is good, as it's definitely a good market, especially with the way the chains work there," he says of the U.K.

Shippers can download the report online here.