The United Kingdom (UK) has been a strong market for U.S. rice; one of the unique values of this market is the diversity of market segments that purchase different types and varieties of U.S. rice. The majority of exports are U.S. long grain, which is sought by the Chinese wholesale and retail sectors, and U.S. parboiled, which is desired by the Afro-Caribbean wholesale and retail sectors. U.S. medium and short grain are desired for sushi establishments as well as Asian food outlets. High-value ready-to-heat pouch formats are popular in the mainstream retail sector as well as typical, dry rice. In late 2020, we saw the first private label U.S. rice brand in UK retail at Marks and Spencer. The brand proudly highlights origin on the front of the pack which shows that local brands see the benefit of identifying U.S. origin.
This past year, USA Rice conducted marketing programs involving six identified U.S. rice brands in the UK market, originating from four different U.S. rice producing states (California, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas), with the goal of increasing visibility for these brands and ultimately increasing U.S. rice sales. The importers of these brands contribute financially to promotional activities, covering 30% of all third-party costs, augmenting the FMD, MAP and ATP funds we use in this market. The amount of contribution has increased continuously in the past years, reaching a record high of $144,837.13 in 2021, which represents a 77% increase from 2020 contributions ($81,582.39). The willingness of the importers to work together with us to grow their U.S. rice brands’ presence indicate the success and efficiency of our programs. Additionally, building on this relationship, it helps ensure their sourcing loyalty to U.S. origin.
In 2021, USA Rice developed a multi-faceted marketing program ensuring that the MAP, FMD, and ATP activities complemented and built off one another. Utilizing $265,000 in MAP21 funds, consumers were targeted to make them aware of the positive selling points of U.S. rice, including its high quality, sustainability messaging, and quick cooking time. Several traditional media activities including billboards, print, digital and radio advertising targeted the Afro Caribbean and Chinese communities in cooperation with four local U.S. rice brands. One brand saw a 94% increase in orders, totaling an additional 53 MT in sales and another brand saw a 23% sales uplift and reached an audience of 4.3 million. Additionally, banners supporting the sales of a U.S. microwavable pouch rice product and a newly participating U.S. medium grain rice brand on the online grocery retail platform Ocado resulted in an 8% sales uptake.
Independent ethnic wholesalers and retailers are moving large volumes of U.S. rice and as part of our strategy to increase sales in this segment, we used $195,000 in FMD21 funds to set up secondary gondola end placements in several independent ethnic wholesalers and retailers, as well as in 29 Costco depots throughout the UK. Costco reported a 28% increase in orders and an additional 33.3 tons of additional volume sold during the campaign.
As more people are spending time on social media and influencers have more power to shape people’s consumer preferences, USA Rice utilized $70,000 in ATP funds to conduct a digital advertising campaign which included an influencer campaign where over 90,000 consumers engaged with the generated content, and it generated over 526,900 impressions.
“We have successfully worked together on the marketing of our USA Rice brands in the UK for many years now, and as the largest importer and distributor of USA Rice in the UK we have a continued commitment to the distribution of USA Rice in our market,” said Mike Abbott, Trade Sector Manager at S&B Herbafoods, the largest importer of U.S. rice in the UK. “The joint activity conducted through 2021 has helped us develop our USA Rice brands through some exceptional times and we are grateful for USA Rice’s help and guidance.”
U.S. rice sales to the UK increased by 9% in volume terms to 29,500 MT with a value of $17 million in 2021. The UK will continue to provide a high value potential growth market for increased U.S. rice sales, particularly as the trade and consumers are becoming more comfortable with U.S. rice and appreciate our industry’s commitments and proven successes on sustainability and conservation, topics which increasingly gain traction among UK consumers.