According to figures released by market development consultancy, Food from Britain (FFB), overseas sales of UK food and drink rose by 3% to GBP9.9bn (UUS$17.65) in 2005. FFB said it believed food and drink exports are entering a decade of sustained growth and that there are more opportunities than ever before for UK manufacturers overseas.


 


FFB added that emerging countries in Asia and the Middle East are expected to play a significant role in this development as many developing markets continue to evolve. The positive outlook comes as the UK food and drink exporters emerge from a difficult decade. Exports have reached their highest level since 1996 when the BSE crisis first hit, with diversification and the development of new markets key to the growth.


 


“We have grown stronger as an industry over the last 10 years, growing exports back to nearly GBP10bn without the contribution of red meat.  This has built a solid platform for the future,” said David McNair, FFB’s chief executive. “But to reach our full potential in the global marketplace, the UK food and drink industry needs to recognise exporting as a strategic route to long-term growth. The opportunities are certainly increasing but competition for these emerging markets is fierce against exporting heavyweights like France, Germany and the US, so we need to shed our UK-centric attitude and encourage more companies, both big and small, to put exporting on the business agenda.”


 


Food and drink exports to the EU continue to see strong growth, rising by 3% to GBP6.4bn in 2005, with Ireland and France the two largest markets. Meanwhile, exports to the new EU accession states grew by 11% to GBP191.1m.


 


Outside Europe, the biggest gains were made in the Asia Oceania region, which saw sales growth of 14% and double-digit increases in every country, except Japan where exports fell by 5% to GBP153m. South Korea and Canada entered the top ten export countries for the UK over the past 12 months, FFB said, with sales to those markets up by 22% and 1% respectively.


 


But it is China that represents one of the biggest opportunities for UK food and drink exporters over the next decade, according to FFB. China was also in the top 20 for the first time, with UK exports to the country up by 62%.