New BFFF chief executive John Hyman welcomed environment secretary Andrea Leadsom’s International Action Plan for Food and Drink – revealed last month – which could boost the economy by almost £3bn. But Hyman said the government had to act on its promises quickly, after a BFFF survey of its 300 plus members found just 45% of its exporters saw Brexit as an opportunity to boost overseas trading.
“I am encouraged by the government’s announcement of the new International Action Plan for Food and Drink, which is designed to boost the sector’s exports by £2.9bn,” Hyman said.
‘An appetite to export’
“Our survey reveals there is already an appetite to export, with 31% of the respondents calling for a new globally focussed trade policy. However, an overwhelming 64% want either no change to our current EU trading arrangements, or free access without free movement of people post-Brexit.”
The survey also revealed that several frozen food firms feared Brexit had already made it harder to recruit staff. The industry, which currently employs about 150,000 people, relies on a supply of skilled workers – especially when facing tough competition and more exports, Hyman said.
Exporting different types of food and drink products could be one answer to the problem of fewer skilled workers, Hyman urged. “There are many more opportunities beyond the products we have traditionally exported such as whisky, beef and shortbread,” he said. “There needs to be a long-term commitment to a trade policy that enables and supports new and existing exporters.”
‘Speak to government with one voice’
“Food is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, given the challenges the whole food industry faces, it’s essential we speak to government with one voice.”
Elsewhere in the survey, 68% of respondents claimed the Brexit vote had a negative impact on their business. More than half said they had increased input or ingredients costs since the EU Referendum, and 30% said the vote had a negative impact on their investment decisions.
Meanwhile, the International Action Plan for Food and Drink was designed to outline ways of tapping into nine markets across 18 non-EU countries, including Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The five-year plan would boost British product exports – including tea, jam and biscuits – by £185M to Japan, and £293M to Australia and New Zealand.
Photograph courtesy of Cable Storage Fife.
BFFF post-Brexit survey – at a glance
- 55% of members currently export
- 45% see Brexit as an opportunity for exports
- 31% want a globally focussed trade deal
- 64% want no change to trade deal
- 68% said Brexit had a negative impact on their business
- 51% increased input or ingredient costs since Brexit vote