Exports snapshot

In this report:

Key Indicators

Executive summary

  • In 2019, exports rose by 4.3% on the previous year, reaching a total of £23.6bn. The UK is now exporting 8.7% more (in value terms) to non-EU countries, lifting the share of total food and drink exports going to nonEU countries by 1.6pp.
  • Q4 exports increased by 8.3% (y-o-y) to £6.1bn, driven by a rise in exports to non-EU markets.
  • All of the UK's top 10 products have seen an increase in value over the year, with pork and salmon seeing particularly high growth (exceeding 25%). In volume terms, wine is the only product to decline in 2019, while salmon and beef were significant sources of growth.
  • The UK's food and drink trade deficit continued to shrink last year, and is now 3.0% smaller than it was in 2019, signalling a relative decline in dependence on imports.
  • Key impactors on UK food and drink exports analysed within this report include retaliatory tariffs imposed by the US in 2019, and the growing importance of Saudi Arabia as a market for branded good exports.
  • Scotland remains the largest exporter of food and drink among the UK's regions and nations.
  • FDF is seeking input from businesses to shape the provision of essential export support. Views can be shared via this survey.

Top 10 products

Top 20 markets

UK food and drink exports over the last 10 years

Click on the image to view larger

Branded goods

Continued decline in branded good exports to the EU

  • UK exports of branded goods grew by 1.2% in 2019. A decline of 1.1%, however, was recorded in Q4 driven by a drop in the value of EU exports.
  • While overall food and drink exports to the EU saw positive growth last year, branded goods exports declined.
  • All of the UK's top 10 markets for branded goods within the EU saw a decline over 2019, reinforcing anecdotal evidence that key buyers were starting to look elsewhere due to Brexit uncertainty.
  • Branded good exports reached £5.9bn in 2019, placing the industry within reaching distance of FDF's industry ambition to grow exports of branded food and nonalcoholic drink to £6bn by 2020.

Opportunities in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region

  • The Gulf region accounts for almost 60% of the UK's food and drink exports to the Middle East and have been highlighted as priority markets by FDF members.
  • Saudi Arabia, in particular, and the wider Gulf region saw significant growth in branded good exports from the UK in 2019 (48% and 12% respectively).
  • Insight from FDEA members who attended the 2020 Gulfood Trade Show in Dubai suggests plant- based/ gluten-free brands are on trend and products such as block cheddar and ginger ale gained interest. For businesses looking to sell in the region, making more of British credentials at the show and in wider marketing is recommended.

Click on the image to view larger

US retaliatory tariffs

  • Exports to the US, the UK's second largest destination for food and drink saw a 7.7% rise on 2018, despite the implementation of retaliatory tariffs in October 2019. This was led by a rise in both the volume and value of spirit exports from the UK.
  • The US is one of the UK's top 3 food and drink export markets and our sales have nearly doubled in the last 20 years.
  • Key exported products include whisky, shortbread, salmon, gin, sweet biscuits and cheese, all of which are among the UK's top 10 exported products. In 2019, over £1bn worth of whisky was exported to the US, and more than £200m of salmon and gin.
  • Of the £228m worth of branded food and drink that was exported to the US last year, sweet biscuits (including shortbread) made up £33m, an 8.2% rise on the previous year. This is equivalent to over 6m tonnes in volume terms.
  • Overall food and drink exports to the US fell 6.7% in Q4 2019 and products facing retaliatory tariffs suffered a sharper decline over this period.
  • Retaliatory US tariffs on goods from the UK and certain EU countries have applied since 18 October 2019, in response to a WTO ruling on Airbus subsidies
  • Tariffs of 25% apply to a range of valuable UK food and drink exports including single-malt whisky, biscuits, pork and dairy products.
  • The UK Government published its negotiating mandate for trade talks with the US on 2 March 2020, indicating significant gains could be delivered for UK food and drink exporters.

Click on the image to view larger

How DIT can support UK businesses in the US market

The US is a vast, mature, competitive market and the greatest opportunities are for UK products that are highly innovative, differentiated and disruptive. In particular, US consumers are open to trying newcomer products that proactively address their lifestyle goals related to health, wellness, status, indulgence, convenience, ethics and sustainability better than incumbent brands.

DIT (The Department for International Trade) works to promote the UK's distinctive food & drink export proposition, from supporting UK delegations at key US tradeshows like Summer Fancy Food, Expo West or PLMA, to hosting US buyers on UK product sourcing visits to providing one-on-one support to exporters.

Working alongside DEFRA, we are also reaching US consumers directly through the Food is GREAT campaign. Our market access work is also yielding new opportunities for UK exporters and following a sustained effort, the US market has re-opened to UK beef for the first time in 20 years. That is just the start – an ambitious FTA with the US has the potential to significantly improve UK agri-food access into the US through the reduction of tariffs, improved customs procedures and reduced technical barriers to trade.

UK regional and national export growth

  • FDF's analysis of the latest regional export data reveal that Scotland remains the largest exporter of food and drink among the UK's regions and nations. The value of Scottish exports reached over £4bn over the first three quarters of 2019.
  • Scotland has seen the highest growth rate compared with the same period in 2018 (11.1%), followed closely by the South West at 10.4%. On the other hand, exports of food and drink from the West Midlands and Northern Ireland declined by, of -2.0% and -0.2% respectively.
  • The Northern regions of England (North East, North West, and Yorkshire and the Humber) account for approximately 15% of the UK's food and drink exports. Despite being home to over a fifth of the UK's food and drink manufacturing businesses, and contributing 25% of the sector's UK GVA, food and drink is one of the lowest value export sectors in Northern England.
  • While the majority of regions saw export value growth in 2019, food and drink continues to be one of the lower value export sectors, with the exception of Scotland and Northern Ireland. This reinforces the importance of improving export support across the UK to maximise our potential.
  • FDF is seeking input from businesses to inform the development of a new long-term Government-industry action plan to grow our industry's exports. This will help to shape the provision of export support at a time when the processes and procedures faced by UK businesses are changing. Feedback on your businesses' export support requirements can be shared via this survey.

More information

Last reviewed: 14 Apr 2020