UK food and drink exports down £700 million in first quarter

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).

It’s down 12.7% compared to the start of 2019. Sales to the EU were hit the hardest, with total value falling by 17.4%.

The decrease was largely driven by the immediate impacts of Covid-19, 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.

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

The federation warns specialist support is urgently needed to help exporters quickly adapt and make an important contribution to the UK’s economic recovery.

Declines were reported among the UK’s top 10 products, with whisky, chocolate, cheese, salmon and gin seeing export value drops of over £20m in the first quarter.

Pork, which saw an increase in value, and beef and vegetables, which saw volume increases, were exceptions to this.

The first quarter of the year also saw a fall in the value of branded food and non-alcoholic drinks exports of 9.1%.

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 percentage point increase on the first three months of 2019.

The winners

However, not every segment saw a decrease. Branded exports to Australia increased by 3.5% in the first quarter of 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 compared to 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 £34 million.

Dominic Goudie, the FDF’s head of international trade, said: “Manufacturers and the other hidden heroes working across the supply chain have ensured continued access to essential food and drink for UK shoppers during this crisis. But 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.

Ensuring a quick return to growth will be essential to support resilience in our industry and also the UK’s economic recovery.

“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.”