Britain’s food and drink sector continues to ignore the uncertain political and economic climate and is forging ahead at home and abroad according to a new report published by Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation, and Santander.

According to the report the sector is worth 15.9% of total manufacturing GVA (gross value added) with sales in 2018 of £85.6 billion, a sharp increase of 7.6% in just two years from 2016.

A large element of this growth is coming overseas with sales abroad up by just under one quarter in the last two years alone. The EU remains the biggest total market accounting for just under two thirds (61%) of exports worth £13.9 billion, with Ireland the largest single destination (21.4% worth £4.2 billion) closely followed by The Netherlands, France, the United States and Germany.

However, the Rest of the World is seeing significant growth with sales to Asia and Oceania up by 295% in the last 20 years and in the same period by 260% to the United States.

Make UK Chief Economist, Seamus Nevin, said: “Despite growth in the Rest of the World, the EU remains the dominant market for exports of food and drink. As such, it is vital that frictionless trade continues in any post Brexit agreement if the remarkable growth pattern of the sector is to be maintained.”

The report also analyses the UK’s position in the world supply of food and drink as well as a number of industry trends domestically.

Globally the UK is the fourth largest food importer in the world and the second largest drink importer. This highlights that, notwithstanding the sector’s positive export growth, the UK is a net importer of food and drink by quite some margin with a total import value of £46 billion compared to exports worth £23 billion in 2018.

The fact that the UK imports twice as much food and drink as it exports highlights the critical need to avoid border and customs checks on fresh food coming into the UK post Brexit, the report warns.

Last reviewed 9 January 2020