In mainland Europe the British are seen as the leading innovators in the private label market. British food and drink manufacturers are admired for their development, while the private label model cultivated by the retailers is one coveted by European category managers.

Where own label was once only useful as a lower price option, British retailers have built on their loyal customer following to develop this into a wider category. The introduction of premium products, such as the Taste the Difference, So Good and Finest ranges, and products that cater to specific market segments, including low fat or organic own label, has increased the value of the sector. And with the British market worth $13.9bn, it is no wonder that European retailers look to the UK for ideas and suppliers.

With the growing need for 'owner­ship' of suppliers and the restrictions now imposed by UK supermarkets, opportunities for British private label food and drink manufacturers within Britain are becoming increasingly limited, but there has never been a better time for private label suppliers to look across the channel for new opportunities.

However, it would seem that British manufacturers are so focused on their home market that they are not willing to look further afield. ­Although we often bring retailers and category developers from The Netherlands to Britain to help them identify private label opportunities and meet with British suppliers, many retailers have yet to receive a visit from a British supplier.

Alongside Belgium, Germany and France, The Netherlands is a key market for private label manu­facturers. While many European countries are years behind the UK in terms of own label development, Dutch retailers have been following a similar path to the British super­markets over the past few years by copying the own label premium ranges. Dutch consumers no ­longer see own label as just a price differentiator; many accept that private label goods not only represent value for money but are also synonymous with quality and innovation.

This trend is expected to con­tinue as consumer accep­tance of private label rises, supported by ­retailers who increasingly advertise and promote their own lines.

The Dutch retail scene is concentrated similarly to the UK's, with four key players that look to the UK as a business model. As in the UK, Dutch retailers are ­increasingly differen­tiating themselves on the basis of their private label offering, and private label products have evolved into strong brands in their own right. With its similarities to the UK market, The Nether­lands holds signifi­cant oppor­tu­nities, espe­cially in the ambient and chilled convenience sectors, where UK exper­tise is strongest. The highest return on investment will most likely come from ready meals, which offers retailers the opportunity to capture high margins and ­expand into a number of segments, inclu­ding low fat, ethnic or ­premium meals - growth that is underpinned by the trend towards busier lifestyles and convenience.

However, companies looking to export to The Netherlands need to invest as much time and prepa­ration in building relationships with Dutch retailers as they would in their home market. They need to seek out and work with FFB to identify Dutch retailers with a simi­lar business model to those they ­already supply in the UK.

Despite overseas buyers having positive views on UK suppliers, they are also spoilt for choice from mainland Europe, particularly the EU ­accession states.