The food and drink export market is showing clear signs of recovery according to the latest figures released by UK export marketing consultancy, Food from Britain (FFB).

Exports of British food and drink stood at £8.9bn (US$14.4bn) for 2002, up an impressive 4.4% on the previous 12 months, recording the first increase in six years, and recovering to a level last
seen in 1998.

This news comes as welcome relief to the UK’s food and drink exporters, who have been hampered over recent years by restrictions and economic pressures in key export markets. The pound’s increased competitiveness against the euro is also beginning to contribute to increased exports in the key euro-zone markets.

As a result, food and drink sales to European markets have shown the biggest gains over the last 12 months, with sales up by 8%. Increases were recorded in all markets, bar Spain, which saw a drop in whisky sales, while exports to France were up for the first time in 7 years.

Further afield, gains were also recorded for British exporters with sales up in North America by 7% and Eastern Europe by 12%. However, losses were experienced in Asia (-4%) and South America (-16%). This led to an overall drop in exports to non-EU countries by 1% to end-December 2002.

Added value products continue to be the ‘stars’ of British food and drink exports according to Food from Britain. Valued at £5.6bn and accounting for 63% of total exports in 2002, they have been steadily on the increase since 2000. With higher margins and less reliance on the fluctuating world commodity markets, this is good news for the country’s food and drink exporters.

Leading the way is the drinks sector, with alcohol sales up £111.5m. Beer sales, particularly to the US, have been strong, while whisky exports are also developing again to many EU and non-EU markets. With the lifting of restrictions, meat exports have also grown with the total sector up 18% despite continued difficult trading conditions.

Successes also continue to be scored in the ethnic and convenience sectors. Other added value areas also showing increases include: breakfast cereals (6%), tea (4%), and cheese (2%).

“These latest results are the most encouraging figures we have seen for the last six years,” said Simon Waring, international management director for Food from Britain.

“We first started to track the beginnings of a recovery in food and drink exports in 2001, but the Foot and Mouth Disease restrictions masked the positive gains made in many areas resulting in a further decline last year. With these now lifted, we can see the positive strides made by our exporters in key markets and product sectors.

“Indications for trading in early 2003 show that this upward trend is set to continue and we believe that there is room for significant growth in EU markets over the coming 12 months,” concluded Waring.