Pandemic hits UK food and drinks exports but non-EU sales of branded goods grow

Fri 29 May 2020
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

Union Jack with plate and cutlery

British food and drink exports fell by over £700 million over the first quarter of 2020, according to analysis published this week by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

This equates to a drop of 12.7% compared to the same period in 2019.

Sales to the EU were hit the hardest, with total value falling by 17.4%.

However, sales of branded goods to non-EU countries grew, including to the US, Australia and China.

UK top ten

Declines in sales to the EU were reported among the UK's top ten products, with whisky, chocolate, cheese, salmon and gin seeing export value drops of over £20m in Q1. Pork, which saw an increase in value, and beef and vegetables, which saw volume increases, were exceptions to this.

The decline was largely driven by the immediate impacts of Covid-19, the FDF said, including the closure of hospitality and travel sectors, which has meant a loss of sales into restaurants, cafés, bars and the out-of-home sector across Europe.

Non-EU growth

However, while sales to the majority of the UK’s top markets declined, demand has been more resilient from other nations, including Singapore, Canada and Norway, which each saw sales growth of more than 10%.

While sales to all EU nations among the UK’s top 10 branded goods export markets decreased in the first quarter of 2020, almost one-third of branded exports are now going to non-EU countries, a 4.5% increase on the first three months of 2019.

There was growth too, in UK branded food and drink exports to the US, Australia and China.

Branded exports to Australia increased by 3.5% in Q1 2020, driven by a rise in sales of cakes and baked goods, including tarts, pastries, wafers, pizzas and quiches, which saw a 12% increase on Q1 2019.

Increased sales of beer and soft drinks helped drive growth to the US by 6.9%, while exports of gin, infant food and bottled water saw the value of exports to China rise to £34m in Q1.

Support for exporters

The federation said the trends highlight the need for “industry and government work in close partnership” to help exporters adapt to changing conditions.

Dominic Goudie, the FDF’s head of international trade, said: “We can now see how Covid-19 has impacted valuable overseas sales of UK food and drink that were worth over £23 billion in 2019.

“The closure of the hospitality sector in high-value export markets in the EU and further afield has been devastating for many exporters. However, we can also see that opportunities do remain in retail channels in many markets.

“We are working closely with government and industry partners to set out a recovery plan that will deliver a return to sustainable export growth right across the UK.”

Skills training

His remarks were echoed by Marco Forgione, director general of the Institute of Export & International Trade.

“UK food and drink exports are such a huge contributor, not just to our GDP but to the UK’s brand overseas. The IOE&IT stands ready to support this critical sector with our range of courses and qualifications in export skills, which are constantly updated as market and regulatory conditions change.”

For more information on IOE&IT courses, see here.