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Food and drink exports growth slows to crawl but gin and whisky fly the flag

Published:  25 March, 2019

Overall UK food and drinks exports slowed to a crawl in 2018, but gin and whisky continued to fly the flag – each growing in both value and volume.

Food and drink exports increased by only 2.5% last year to £22.6 billion compared to 2017 when exports rose 9.7%, according to data released today by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

Bucking the trend, whisky exports rose 7.7% to £4.8 billion on volumes up 3%, while gin exports rose 15% in value to £614.4 million, and 11.6% in volume.

Export growth of wine also rose - up  9.8% to £630.4 million with volumes up 21.3%, but the vast majority of this is imported and re-exported.

The strong figures put the trio within the top 10 exported products alongside beer, but the latter saw a 7% drop in export growth to £489.2 million on volumes dropping 6.3%.

This slower growth rate for total food and drink exports was seen in both exports to EU markets - up 4.3% in 2018 compared to 10.3% in 2017, and non-EU markets, down 0.3% in 2018 compared to an 8.9% increase in 2017.

Seven of the top 20 markets for UK food and drink exports saw a fall in value, including the US and France which fell by 2.2% and 3.4% respectively.

This fall in growth highlighted 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,” said the FDF.

“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,” said Ian Wright CBE, chief executive, FDF.

Graham Hutcheon, managing director, group operations, Edrington and chair of the Food and Drink Sector Council Exports Group, said: “I believe the demand for British food and drink is out there. The UK 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.”