The UK food industry was now selling products to 217 markets, with sales of milk and cream increasing by 61%, salmon by 23% and pork by 14%, according to data published on February 11 by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) export data revealed salmon exports grew to £600M in 2017, up 35% – or £155.5M – compared with the previous year.
The figures also indicated that Europe continued to be the top export market for salmon and Scotch whisky in terms of both value and volume.
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) said whisky exports had reached a “record high” of £4.36bn. The figures indicated Scotch accounted for more than 20% of all UK food and drink exports.
Commenting on the figures, SWA ceo Karen Betts said: “These encouraging figures show how popular Scotch whisky is right around the world. Already a strong export, loved for its sophistication, diversity and provenance, it’s great to see Scotch continuing to grow in established and new markets.”
An increasing thirst for British tipples has also seen bottles of UK beer appearing on shelves as far as Japan and New Zealand, DEFRA claimed. Gin continued to go through a ‘ginaissance’ with international sales of UK brands reaching more than £500M.
Last year, the UK also sent £85M-worth of cheese to France, £21M of chocolate to Belgium and even £2M of tea to China, according to DEFRA.
The Irish Republic remained the UK’s largest export market, worth £3.7bn, up 3% on the previous year. The US and France tied in second place, worth £2.3bn each. The Netherlands came third, representing £1.5bn in sales, and Germany was in fourth place, spending £1.4bn on UK food and drink.
However, China’s prominence continued to grow as a destination for UK food exports. More than £560M-worth of food and drink was bought by Chinese consumers last year, who showed a particular preference for UK salmon, whisky and pork, DEFRA claimed.
Total food and drink exports hit £22bn in 2017.
Referring to the DEFRA data covering the whole industry, director general of the Food and Drink Federation Ian Wright said: “UK food and drink is known across the globe for its provenance and quality. We are a proud home to many of the world’s most beloved brands.
“We must now build upon this platform in order to take advantage of new opportunities and the growing global appetite for great British and Northern Irish manufacturing as we leave the EU.”
DEFRA secretary of state Michael Gove said: “Farmers, fishermen and our food producers are all helping to deliver a Brexit bonus, with more exports of British food and drink than ever.
“Contrary to the constant negativity of the doom-mongers, the British economy is going from strength to strength, showing that a green Brexit can deliver for the whole country.”
Last month, industry representatives and government officials held the first meeting of the newly created Food and Drink Sector Council.
Part of the council’s remit will be to help boost productivity, enabling industry to take more advantage of emerging opportunities to access more markets and boost exports post-Brexit.
Meanwhile, leaked Brexit papers appeared to underline industry fears that the cost of international trade would spiral after Brexit.