The total value of food and drink exports was £21.3bn for 2020 read the report from the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and Santander UK.
Exports to EU and non-EU markets fell by 8.0% and 12.1% respectively, while most of the top ten food products exported by the UK fell due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This included whisky (down 13.7%), chocolate (down 2.3%) and cheese (down 7.5%).
However, the easing of pandemic restrictions and stockpiling by businesses in the EU before the end of the Brexit transition period meant food export sales only fell by 1.4% in the fourth quarter of 2020.
Pork and cereals
Pork export sales rose by 6.2% in 2020, valued at £629.7m, while overseas sales of breakfast cereals grew by 12.6%, with the Republic of Ireland the biggest market.
“While the food and drink industry didn’t escape the effects of the pandemic and Brexit last year, it certainly didn’t let them beat it,” saidAndrew Williams, head of the food & drink sector at Santander Corporate & Commercial Banking.
“There is much scope for growth in 2021. We are proud to support food and drink businesses throughout the UK in making the most of opportunities to expand at home and to export overseas, both to the EU and beyond.”
Significant growth markets detailed in the report include the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. More opportunities would present themselves through the UK’s application to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, the third largest free-trade bloc in the world by gross domestic product, it predicted.
Future of exports
The FDF called on Government to adopt the export proposals produced by industry members of the Food and Drink Sector Council and backed by the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s recent report.
FDF chief executive Ian Wright added: “As the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, food and drink makes a unique economic and cultural contribution in every region of the UK.
“Now we look forward to the Government demonstrating its commitment to working in partnership with us to accelerate growth in our sector.”
Meanwhile, UK meat exporters could permanently lose half their trade due to Brexit, according to the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA).