News article

5 June 2019

UK food and drink exports: Biggest first quarter on record

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  • Q1 2019 exports of food and drink increased by 10.7% (y-o-y) to £5.8bn, almost twice the growth rate of exports in Q1 2018 (+6.3%) and the biggest first quarter sales value on record.
  • Export growth to non-EU markets (+12.2%) outpaced growth to EU markets (+9.9%). This was also the case for sales of branded goods.
  • Growth of more than 20% was recorded in six of the UK's top 20 export markets: the Netherlands, China, Sweden, Japan, Taiwan and Saudi Arabia.
  • However, growth may slow over the rest of 2019 with foreign buyers signalling they are no longer willing to buy from UK exporters due to ongoing Brexit uncertainty.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has today published analysis showing that in the first quarter of 2019 food and drink exports increased by 10.7% (y-o-y) to £5.8bn, almost twice the growth rate of Q1 2018 (+6.3%) and the biggest first quarter sales value on record. Within that, Q1 2019 food and drink export growth to non-EU markets (+12.2%) outpaced growth to EU markets (+9.9%). This was also the case for exports of branded goods.

Growth of more than 20% was recorded in six of the UK's top 20 food and drink export markets, with Japan recording the highest growth rate at 52.5%. Exports of all of the top 10 products increased by value in Q1 2019, the strongest being salmon with growth of 40.9%.

Over the past 10 years, UK branded goods exports have increased by 110%. In Q1 2019, exports to the Netherlands (13.5%) grew the quickest out of the top five markets for branded goods. FDF's industry ambition is to grow exports of branded food and non-alcoholic drink by a third, from a 2014 baseline, to reach £6bn by 2020.

Brexit uncertainty and the Food and Drink Sector Deal

While Q1 exports have shown positive results, feedback received by FDF from businesses at recent trade fairs shows that key buyers in some of the top 20 markets are no longer willing to buy from UK exporters due to ongoing Brexit uncertainty. This could have a significant impact on food and drink export figures later in 2019.

In January 2018, the Food and Drink Sector Council was established as a formal industry partnership with Government created to improve the productivity and sustainability of the UK food and drink industry. Exports are among the Council's key priority areas, with working groups set up to drive activities and policy recommendations in these areas.

The Food and Drink Sector Council Exports Working Group, led by Graham Hutcheon, Managing Director, Group Operations, Edrington, aims to drive a step-change in food and drink exports through a range of activities. This includes supporting the successful launch of a Food and Drink Sector Deal.

Saudi Arabia moves into top 20 exports markets

Through the Food and Drink Sector Deal, five target markets (China, the Gulf region, the USA, Japan, and India) have been identified as offering significant growth potential for UK food and drink.

Sales to Saudi Arabia rose by 198% from Q1 2009 to Q1 2019. Between January and March 2019, exports grew by 28.6%, moving the country into the UK's top 20 exports markets. Saudi Arabia was also the 11th biggest buyer of UK branded goods, recording growth of 82%, driven by exports of breakfast cereals, chocolate and sweet biscuits.

The top five UK products sold to Saudi Arabia in Q1 were oats, breakfast cereals, chocolate, sweet biscuits and eggs. Three-digit growth was recorded in nine of the top 20 UK export products sold to Saudi Arabia, including sugar (+3,782%).

The full exports report, including supporting information about Q1 2019 food and drink exports, and exports reports from previous quarters are available on our website along with supporting company case studies.

FDF's Quarterly Business Confidence surveys, covering the latest businesses conditions, views on the wider economy, and top opportunities and risks for the food and drink manufacturing sector, are available on our website.

Ian Wright CBE, Chief Executive, Food and Drink Federation, said:

“The food and drink industry continues to out-perform expectations, delivering another quarter of exceptional exports growth despite the damaging uncertainty with which businesses have to contend. The rapid growth to Saudi Arabia, a key target market in FDF's Food and Drink Sector Deal proposals, is just one example of this strength. With the right support in place our industry could deliver so much more. We urge Government to co-invest in our Sector Deal proposals and help us to provide the support our industry urgently needs to further enhance this growth.”

For more information, please contact Ella Stanbrook, Corporate Affairs Executive (Media), on 020 7420 7131, ella.stanbrook@fdf.org.uk

Notes for editors:

  • The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) is the voice of the food and drink manufacturing industry – the UK's largest manufacturing sector. For more information about FDF and the industry we represent visit www.fdf.org.uk
  • 'Branded' goods refer to manufactured products that have had their value increased through production. FDF's focus in terms of branded goods is on food and non-alcoholic drink.
  • Exports report and full exports data.
  • Supporting case studies.
  • The latest FDF Food & Drink Business Confidence Report.

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