UK food and drink exports driving economic growth

09 May 2022

Food and drink exports across the UK are recovering from the challenges of the pandemic with manufacturers taking advantage of new trading relationships across the world, according to research by the Food and Drink Federation.


The FDF’s UK Food and Drink Exports report reveals the latest breakdown of food and drink exports from across the UK during 2021.

The report shows that Scotland, Wales, the West Midlands and the North East of England had the strongest export growth, reflecting encouraging recovery from the supply chain problems caused by COVID and that businesses are adapting to the new UK-EU trading relationship. An important sign that the food and drink industry can play a vital role in levelling up the country.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Scotland accounts for the largest share of UK food and drink exports, with almost 30% of total exports. This was worth £5.7bn, up 14.6% since 2020.
  • Wales is the only UK nation to exceed pre-COVID export levels. This was driven by strong exports of cereals, up 173% since 2020, and now worth nearly £140m to the economy.
  • The North East saw the largest increase reaching £280m – a 20.4% increase from 2020 - while the West Midlands grew by £810m, a 12.6% rise from two years ago.

The share of exports to non-EU markets is increasing, with a strong growth in London, as companies take advantage of the opportunities to grow exports through the UK Government’s new global trade deals. However, more can be done to improve the implementation of the UK-EU trade agreement, to help companies recover exports in the EU alongside growing market share in other global markets.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not factored into this report, and we’re yet to understand its full impact on our sector’s exports and on the global supply chains on which our sector relies for some ingredients, such as vegetable oils, cereals and white fish. 

The Food and Drink Federation’s Chief Executive Karen Betts said:

“It’s very encouraging to see exports starting to recover across many parts of the UK, with companies starting to pull out of COVID-related disruption and adapting to the UK’s new trading relationships with countries around the world. Every product we export is rooted in our culture and our communities, and it’s great to see that our food and drink is sought out by consumers all over the world.

“Our report also shows the vital role that food and drink manufacturing plays in every community across the UK’s four nations, and how central our sector is to prosperity at home as well as in driving exports overseas.”

Food and Drink Federation Scotland’s Chief Executive Officer, David Thomson, said:

“Scotland continues to punch above its weight – accounting for the largest share of UK food and drink exports - with an impressive 30% of total exports.

“It’s heartening to see an increase in Scotland’s food and drink exports as the industry begins to recover from the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit. We hope that new opportunities in different markets will further increase sales of Scotland’s food and drink abroad.

“We will continue to work with Scottish and UK governments and partners from across the food chain to support the recovery and growth of our vital industry.”

The FDF Cymru’s chief executive Pete Robertson said:

“From cereals to coffee and ham to honey, we are proud that produce from Welsh food and drink companies is now a much sought after good around the world.

“With more opportunities to export expected in the near future, Welsh food manufacturers are leading the way in putting the UK on the map while providing vital jobs for local people at the heart of our communities.”

Minister for Exports Mike Freer said:

“It’s brilliant to see food and drink companies from every corner of the UK selling their products to the world, growing our economy and supporting jobs across the country.

“Our 12-point Export Strategy, Export Support Service and new network of agri-food and drink attachés are all ways we’re supporting businesses to boost their exports and take advantage of exciting new opportunities across the globe.”

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said:

“Scotland’s food and drink producers not only play a major role in our economy, these figures demonstrate that their high-quality products are being increasingly enjoyed by consumers across the world.

“I am always delighted to see Scottish food and drink products do well on the international stage and I would like to congratulate everyone involved in this significant achievement.

“These figures are set against the backdrop of significant challenges presented by the double blow of a global pandemic and Brexit and it is testament to the resilience of our producers and the quality of their products that the sector continues to make such a strong recovery.”

Welsh Government Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths said:

“It is excellent news our Welsh food and drink businesses have exceeded pre-covid export levels and are leading the growth across the UK nations.

“We have fantastic companies in the sector and I am proud of the resilience they have shown during a difficult couple of years.”

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said:

“This report from the Food and Drink Federation highlights that not only is the West Midlands coping admirably with the challenges caused by Covid, it is positively excelling in a new global trading context.

“We have a strong manufacturing tradition in our region and the food and drink sector continues this proud heritage today - driving economic growth and creating jobs in the very heart of our communities. I look forward to continuing to work with the sector to deliver further success in the months and years ahead.”