UK food and drink export growth slowed in 2018

Figures released by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) showed that food and drink exports increased by 2.5% in 2018, down from 9.7% growth in the previous year.

This slower growth was seen in both exports to EU markets, up 4.3% in 2018 compared to up 10.3% in 2017, and non-EU markets, down 0.3% in 2018 compared to up 8.9% in 2017.

Growth of exports of branded goods also fell, down 0.1% when compared to the previous year. The growth was up 5% to EU markets, but down 10.2% to non-EU markets.

Seven of the top 20 markets for UK food and drink exports saw a fall in value, including the United States and France which fell by 2.2% and 3.4% respectively. Exports of salmon and beer fell by 11.6% and 7.0% by value, while the other products among the top 10 exports grew over the period.

Chocolate was the country’s second-largest export in 2018 with an increase of 4.5% in value and 3.9% in volume when compared to 2017. However growth slowed compared to 2017 figures of up 7.8% in value, but growth increased in terms of volume, up 1.6% in 2017.

The FDF said this fall in growth highlights the need for specialist export support to deliver ambitious long-term export targets, whether food and drink manufacturers are looking to export for the first time, enter new markets, or expand their existing markets.

Wheat-based products

Wheat and wheat-based goods (such as sweet biscuits, cakes and breads) account for around 10% of overall UK food and drink exports, and are consistently found in the top 50 exported food products. The UK’s top destination for all wheat and wheat-based exports is Ireland, with 35.2% of such goods being exported there in 2018. The US and France are also significant buyers of UK-manufactured wheat-based goods, such as bread and biscuits.

All wheat-based products reported growth over the past year, except for cakes which saw an overall decline of 13%.

Considering growth over the past year, non-EU markets have been a key point of interest, notably the UAE (United Arab Emirates), Hong Kong, and Australia. The three markets combined account for around 10% of UK wheat-based good exports.

The full exports report, including supporting information about Full Year 2018 food and drink exports, and exports reports from previous quarters can be found on the FDF Exports pages here.

 Ian Wright, chief executive, Food and Drink Federation, said: “In defiance of the uncertainty caused by UK exit from the EU, UK food and drink exports continued to grow through 2018. It is still unclear what this week will hold for our resilient industry, but regardless, we are working with the government to negotiate a Food and Drink Sector Deal to support those companies that are or want to export our high-quality products around the world.” 

Graham Hutcheon, managing director, group operations at Edrington and chair of the Food and Drink Sector Council Exports Group, said: “The UK Food and Drink sector has a huge opportunity to drive growth by exploiting the export potential available to us.

“We under-index in many key markets and this must be addressed. We have to understand the issues at work here and develop systems to simplify and facilitate exporting across our sector.

“In the UK we produce world leading quality food and drink produce. I believe the demand is out there.”

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