Food products show great export promise
Locally manufactured spices, biscuits, juices and drinks are fast gaining ground abroad thanks to a sizeable population of non-resident Bangladeshis.
Take, for instance, the case of spices. In fiscal 2009-10, food processers shipped $3.93 million worth of cooking condiments.
The amount swelled to $60.42 million in fiscal 2014-15, according to data compiled by Bangladesh Agro-Processors' Association, a trade body of processed food exporters.
Similarly, shipments of biscuits rose almost six times to $20.07 million in fiscal 2014-15 from five years earlier, and that of juice and drinks about five times to $66.85 million.
“This shows the rising popularity of Bangladeshi products. Our market is growing and this is expected to continue,” said Khurshid Ahmad Farhad, general secretary of Bapa.
Bapa data shows the four items accounted for about 65 percent of the total export earnings of $219.84 million in fiscal 2014-15.
Farhad, also an assistant general manager of export of Square Food & Beverage Ltd, said the spice market abroad was dominated by Indian and Pakistani exporters a decade ago, when shipments from Bangladesh were low.
But increased efforts by local processors and exporters have widened the market in recent years.
“Now, Bangladeshi migrants abroad consume Bangladeshi products. Many Middle-Eastern natives love our products too.”
Exporters said the increase in the number of processed foods makers, cash incentive benefits provided by the government, better pricing and the quality of the locally made foods facilitated the growth.
Today, Bangladeshi foods are being sold in 130 countries, ranging from Australia to the US.
But the Middle Eastern countries, mainly the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which are home to hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, are the largest markets. New markets have also emerged in recent years. For instance, Pran, the country's largest food processor and exporter, now ships to some African nations.
Exporters' agents abroad are also supplying Bangladeshi spices and other food products to some retail chains in the West, according to Farhad.
Md Mizanur Rahman, chief of export at Pran, said the various incentives provided by the government have encouraged expansion of food processing in Bangladesh and buoyed exports in the past decade.
There are 100 manufacturers engaging as exporters and nearly 250 firms involved in food processing, according to data from Bapa and Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
The food processing sector in Bangladesh is a $2.2 billion industry that grew at 7.7 percent on average a year between fiscal 2004-05 and 2010-11, said a US Department of Agriculture report.
The growth of food processing has benefited the rural economy as many raw materials are collected from farmers, Rahman said.
It has also created jobs and scope to earn foreign currency through exports.
Bangladeshi biscuits are showing great promise in the export market, the Pran official said.
“Initially we had little focus on biscuits. But after getting good response, we increased the number of biscuit items in our export basket.”
Bangladesh's toast and dry cake have huge demand, mainly in the Gulf states.
Apart from Pran, some other local manufacturers are also exporting biscuits.
The spice market is quite big and there is scope to secure more market share, Rahman said, while calling for more effort to increase the export of food products that are consumed by all and not just the ethnic or South Asian communities.
The quality and packaging of locally made food products have improved a lot over the years. “What is needed now is the country branding, that Bangladesh produces quality products. The improvement in the country's image will enhance the acceptability of our products globally.”
Both Rahman and Farhad urged the government to establish quality laboratories so that exporters can ship their products by complying with the quality requirement of the importing countries. “We need to carry out various lab tests outside the country in the absence of such facility here,” Farhad said. It is also necessary to ensure the right packaging in line with the requirements of importing countries.
Subsequently, he suggested the government establish a modern quality control lab and packaging centre under public private partnership in line with international standards.
Both of them also recommended establishing modern training institute for food processing professionals.