The annual figures released by
international export marketing consultancy Food from Britain show that although the volume
of products exported rose by seven per cent, the overall value of the market has dropped
to £9.2bn. The strength of sterling, the Asian and Russian crises and the weakening of
the euro have all contributed to the tough trading conditions experienced by UK exporters
over the last 12 months.

Exports to non-EU markets were the worst
hit, experiencing a 16 per cent decrease in total food and drink sales mainly due to the
depressed economic situation in the Far East. Meanwhile, food and drink sales to EU
countries, which account for nearly two-thirds of all UK exports, fared on the whole much
better with sales in the region of the 1997 figures and certain European markets such as
Italy, Spain and Ireland showing increases in exports of 22 per cent, four per cent and
one per cent respectively.

A number of product areas also bucked this
downward trend in 1998. Fish exports remained buoyant, showing an increase of £73m (11
per cent), sugar is up two per cent, and breakfast cereals have continued to grow
finishing the year off up 11 per cent. Other ‘added value’ products showing an
increase include beer (12 per cent), sauces (14 per cent), table cheese (15 per cent),
instant coffee (four per cent), ice-cream (three per cent) and fresh whole poultry (11 per
cent).

“Market has been tough”

Commenting on these latest food and drink
export figures, Patrick Davis, Food From Britain’s chief executive said: “The
market for UK exporters across the board has been tough in 1998 and food and drink exports
have suffered as a result. However, despite these conditions, UK food and drink exporters
have managed to hang onto their market shares in many of the countries in which they
operate, ensuring that when the market does improve they are well placed to take maximum
advantage.

“The companies that Food from Britain
work with are committed to exporting their products. With intense and ever increasing
competition for shelf space and margins in the UK, they realise that for long term growth
they have to look to widen their distribution. Although the export value is down, overseas
markets still offer a great opportunity as UK manufacturers are seen as innovators,
especially in the added value areas.”

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