In this report:

Key Indicators

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Executive summary

  • Headline data indicates a modest increase in UK food and drink exports, up 2.5% (y-o-y) to £22.6bn in 2018, compared to growth of 9.7% in 2017.
  • Export growth to EU markets was positive (+4.3%), whilst exports to non- EU markets declined slightly over 2018 (-0.3%), raising the EU share of exports to 61.4%. Although there has been a fall in exports to the UK's non-EU trading partners, three of the top 20 non-EU markets have shown growth rates exceeding 10% (China, Australia, and Singapore).
  • Positively, the food and drink trade deficit narrowed by 1.4% in 2018, standing at -£24.0bn, which is £348.0m smaller than the same period in 2017.
  • As shown in Figure 1, the overall value of exports has nearly doubled over the past decade, from £13.3bn in 2008 to £22.6bn last year.
  • Beer and salmon have reported consistent negative growth in 2018. This fall in salmon was mainly driven by the US (overall drop of £55bn, or 8,718 tonnes), and was closely followed by France, which saw a 6,406 tonne drop in salmon imports from the UK.
  • On the other hand, whisky, chocolate, and cheese, the UK's top 3 food and drink exports, have all shown growth over 2018 in volume and value. Notably, chocolate and cheese both saw faster growth in export volume over 2018 compared with 2017.

Top 10 products

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Top 20 markets

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UK food and drink exports over the last 10 years

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FDF Ambition and support for businesses during Brexit

  • 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. Since 2014, exports of branded goods have now grown by 27%. When looking at the last year, exports of branded goods saw negative overall growth (-0.1%) to £5.8bn against the same period in 2017.
  • Though the UK's exports of branded goods are within reaching distance of FDF's export ambition, the dropoff we have seen in 2018 reinforces the need for further dedicated support specific to food and drink exporters
  • FDF, supported by supply chain partners, is working with Government to address gaps in export support with the aim of boosting long-term export growth, while supporting food chain businesses as we leave the EU.
  • Brexit is a concern for food and drink exporters. In FDF's most recent confidence survey, 30% of members expressed concern over decreased export profitability, highlighting the pressure that businesses are under across all parts of their business.
  • This is in line with continued concerns over increased input prices, loss of access to EU preferential trade agreements and additional border/customs requirements, which were reported as expected barriers to business success in 2019 by up to 86% of respondents.

Branded Goods

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Impact of currency on export sales

  • Between 2016 and 2017, export values to all major trade partners increased (except for Spain) whereas in 2018, exports to 7 of our 20 largest export markets reported negative growth.
  • In 2018 the relative value of the Pound against all major currencies strengthened, in contrast to 2017 when the value of the Pound reached more than a 10- year low. Export values benefit from currency devaluations, making them globally competitive, although firms importing raw materials will face higher costs of imports.
  • Currency devaluation is only one of the contributors to export value growth. UK food and drink exports are seen to be high quality and safe products that consumers trust, with brand promotion leading to increased overseas sales. Better export support services available to UK exporters also play a big part.
  • In our research, we have explored the correlation between EU27 exports and the GBP/EUR exchange rate which showed that a 10% rise in the value of the pound against the euro tends to be associated with a 4% decline in the value of EU27 exports.

Top 5 markets

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UK Branded Goods Food and Drink Export Value vs. Export Growth

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Exports of wheat-based goods

  • Wheat and wheat-based goods (such as breakfast cereals, 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.
  • Figure 3 demonstrates that the volume of wheat-based good exports have shown mixed performance over the past decade, with the slowest growing product being breakfast cereals (16.3% since 2008), and the fastest growing product being pasta (50.7% since 2008). However, the amount of wheat (as a commodity) and bread being exported has fallen at an average rate of 17% and 1% respectively per year over the past decade. Overall, the quantity of wheat-based good exports have risen by 16.9% since 2008.
  • The table opposite outlines the UK exports of wheat and wheatbased goods over the past 5 years. Sweet biscuits and breakfast cereals are the top two exported products in this category, both worth more than £400m in 2018.
  • Despite being one of the lower performers (in terms of value), pasta exports have shown the fastest growth over the past 5 years (6.7% CAGR over the past 5 years), when compared with wheat and other wheat-based goods. In contrast, wheat exports themselves have fallen significantly.
  • Between 2012 and 2013, pasta exports saw a notable rise, both in value and volume (+22% and +617% respectively). This sharp increase was driven by a 113,065 tonne rise (919%) in exports to Ireland. This was followed by a tail-off in demand for UK-produced pasta in 2014.

Wheat & Wheat-based Products: 5 Year Trends

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UK Exports of wheat-based goods

  • The UK's top destination for all wheat and wheatbased good exports is Ireland, with 35.2% being exported there in 2018. Overall, the EU is the largest buyer of UK wheat-based products, holding a share of 70% of export value in 2018. The US and France are also significant importers of UK-produced bread and biscuits.
  • Exports of all products increased in 2018, with the exception of cakes, which decreased by 13%. The fastest growing product was pasta, due to a 46% increase in sales to non-EU countries led by Australia and Hong Kong.
  • For cakes, bread and pasta, more than two thirds of export sales are accounted for by the top 5 trading partners. The top 5 markets for these products are almost exclusively EU27 countries (Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium). Amongst them, only pasta forms an exception, with 6.9% of UK-produced pasta going to Australia.
  • Looking at 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.

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UK Food & Drink Exports and imports Regional Map

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Last reviewed: 25 Mar 2019