The drop was blamed on the fall in oil prices and the strength of the pound against the depreciated euro making UK exports less competitive in key eurozone markets.
The strength of sterling was identified as “a growing concern” by the Food & Drink Exporters Association (FDEA) last September, after its survey revealed food and non-alcoholic drinks exports fell in value by 5.3% to £6bn in the first six months of last year.
On a brighter note, UK exports of branded food and non-alcoholic drinks grew by 0.9% to £4.63bn last year, representing the 15th year of consecutive growth, against the backdrop of falling overall exports.
But exports of branded food and non-alcoholic drinks to the EU fell by 1.3% in 2015.
The FDF director of competitiveness Angela Coleshill said: “Growing exports is a top priority for Britain’s makers, bakers and bottlers, who have set an ambition to increase branded exports by a third by 2020.
“For our industry to meet this stretching target, we need to make sure small and medium-sized food companies in particular are helped to compete in the fiercely competitive global marketplace.”
Top three export product categories
The top three export product categories remained: chocolate, salmon and cheese. Categories showing the biggest overall increase were exports of vegetables – both prepared and fresh – up by £18M to £336.3M last year.
Exports to non-EU markets rose in value by 6.4% on 2014 figures, with double-digit growth seen in Saudi Arabia, Japan and Australia.
Non-EU markets accounted for 30.8% of the UK’s total branded food and non-alcoholic drink exports.
Exports to China grew by 9% – the first time that the world’s most populated nation entered the UK’s list of top 10 overseas trade partners.
In 2014, the UK was the EU’s number one exporter of tea to China, while exports of processed milk to the country rose by £19.3M last year.
FDEA director Elsa Fairbanks said: “Buyers continue to be attracted by the quality and innovation of British products.
Growth is particularly coming from products where the UK excels – iconic British brands combined with our expertise in health, wellbeing and free-from.”
UK exports of food and non-alcoholic drinks – at glance
Top three product categories
Biggest overall increase
- Vegetables, both prepared and fresh
- EU markets: 69.2%
- Non-EU markets: 30.8%