UK Food and drink exports drop amid COVID-19 challenges

By James Ridler contact

- Last updated on GMT

Food and drink exports fell in the nine months to September 2020
Food and drink exports fell in the nine months to September 2020

Related tags: Exports, Brexit

UK food and drink exports fell by 12.9% to £15.2bn in the first nine months of 2020, as manufacturers struggled with the coronavirus pandemic and uncertainty surrounding the end of the Brexit transition period.

Analysis by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) also found that exports to the majority of the top 20 markets decreased from January to September, with Spain falling significantly by 33.8%. Whisky sales suffered most, down 19% to £901.4m.

However, exports to Norway saw a substantial increase, up 38.4% to £198.8m in the first nine months to September 2020.

In the third quarter of 2020 alone, exports fell by 11.6% to £5.5bn when compared to the same period in 2019, as both exports to EU (-9.3%) and non-EU markets (-14.8%) declined.

Pork and breakfast cereals were the only products within the top 10 to show growth, up 12.7%, and 2.5%, respectively.

Ireland top destination

Ireland remained the top EU destination for UK exports, accounting for up to 30% of overall sales. Most of the top 10 products exported to Ireland fell in value terms, with cheese and savoury snacks the only categories to show growth.

Dominic Goudie, head of international trade at the FDF, said the continued decline in exports during the third quarter of 2020 was representative of the continued confusion faced by the food and drink industry in the run up to the end of the Brexit transition period.

“As the UK makes its way towards economic recovery, ensuring a quick return to growth will be essential to strengthen resilience in our industry,”​ he added. “It is vital that we continue to work closely with Government and industry partners to ensure that food and drink exporters have the support they need.”

Pandemic challenges

Food and Drink Sector Council exports working group chair Graham Hutcheon said the pandemic had the biggest negative effect on food and drink exports in 2020. This had been compounded by the looming threat of the end of the transition period, he added.

“More specialist support is urgently needed to ensure our industry comes through these challenges and can fully take advantage of opportunities arising from new UK trade deals,”​ said Hutcheon.

“The Food and Drink Sector Council helps to ensure a collaborative approach between Government and industry and in 2021 it will set out a shared action plan to drive a return to export growth.”

Related topics: Supply Chain

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