News article

25 March 2019

UK Food and Drink Exports growth slow to a crawl in 2018

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  • Food and drink exports increased by 2.5% to £22.6bn from January to December 2018, when compared to the same period in 2017
  • This growth rate is approximately a quarter of the growth rate seen in 2017, when food and drink exports rose 9.7% compared to 2016
  • Exports of branded goods fell by 0.1% to £5.8bn

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has today published analysis showing that food and drink exports have increased by only 2.5% from January – December 2018, compared to the same period in 2017, 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 5.0% 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.

This fall in growth, for both overall exports and exports of branded goods, 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. As part of the Government's Industrial Strategy Activity, FDF is in formal negotiations with Government on a Food and Drink Sector Deal. This follows the submission of a proposal which included measures such as support for market research, in-market support, and an export portal.

Additionally, the lower growth is reflective of the results of FDF's recently published Food & Drink Business Confidence Report 2018 which showed that in Q4 2018, decreased export profitability was a concern for 30% of members. Looking forward to 2019, 42% of respondents expect exports to decrease and 46% expect them to remain the same.

Wheat-based products

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. The UK's top destination for all wheat and wheat-based exports is Ireland, with 35.2% of such goods being exported to Ireland 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%. The fastest growing product amongst the UK's 6 key wheat-based exports was pasta, primarily due to a 46% rise in the exports from the UK to non-EU countries, such as Australia and Hong Kong.

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 our Exports pages here. Read supporting case studies »

Ian Wright CBE, 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 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, 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.”

Notes for editors:

  1. 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
  2. '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.
  3. The exports report can be found here. The full exports data can be found here.
  4. Supporting case studies can be found here.
  5. Read the latest FDF Food & Drink Business Confidence Report.

More Information

Contact Skye Oudemans, Regulation, Science & Sustainability Division, at: skye.oudemans@fdf.org.uk, or 02074207120.

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