Santander UK and the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) have launched an industry report showing that despite sporadic re-openings of the hospitality and travel sectors, both domestically and overseas throughout the last year, UK food and drink exports in 2020 fell by 9.7% compared to 2019.

However, a widespread easing of pandemic restrictions, coupled with businesses stockpiling products in the EU before the end of the brexit transition period, meant our exports fell by just 1.7% in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Exports to both EU and non-EU markets fell by 8.0%, and 12.1% respectively. Most of the top 10 products exported by the UK also fell due to the pandemic. This includes a decline in volume of the UK’s top three products: Whiskey (-13.7%), chocolate (-2.3%) and cheese (-7.5%).

Despite this, pork sales to EU and non-EU markets increased in volume by 6.2% in 2020, with a total value of £629.7 million.

Sales of breakfast cereals also increased in volume by 12.6% with the top market being the Republic of Ireland.

Helping UK exporters

The FDF and Santander UK welcome recent initiatives from the government to help UK exporters, including the creation of four Trade and Investment Hubs by the Department of International Trade (DIT).

However, the FDF said that more can be done to ensure UK food and drink exporters have all the support they need.

It stated that the government should adopt the export proposals produced and agreed by industry members of the Food and Drink Sector Council, which were also backed in the recent report published by the Trade and Agriculture Commission.

These include establishing a Food and Drink Export Council to drive UK-wide collaboration, and addressing the critical gap in specialist support for exporters of food and drink that exists in England.

Ian Wright CBE, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said:

"The FDF continues to work in close partnership with the government and other industry bodies to ensure our sector has the support that is needed to fulfil our untapped export potential.

These initiatives are vital to help create new jobs and drive the quick return to growth that is essential to strengthen resilience across our industry.

"As the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, food and drink makes a unique economic and cultural contribution in every region of the UK.

"Now we look forward to the government demonstrating its commitment to working in partnership with us to accelerate growth in our sector," he concluded.