The UK’s food and drink export market has shown a 2% drop in sales in 2001 reflecting the impact of the foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak and the strength of the pound. 

According to figures released today [Thursday] by global food and drink export marketing agency Food from Britain (FFB), the value of UK food and drink exports dropped by £207m (US$302.8m) for the calendar year 2001, which sees the market now worth just over £8.5bn.

These figures show the extent of the affect of FMD on the food and drink export community, says FFB, which has seen £204m and £43m wiped off meat and dairy exports respectively – due to export restrictions introduced in February last year. It also comes at a time when exports were stabilising at £8.8m in 2000 after a three year dip in sales, and showing an 11% increase in January 2001.

“The FMD export restrictions have severely hampered the market’s recovery, however this masks an otherwise resilient and more positive performance,” said David McNair, CEO of FFB. “Taking the lost meat and dairy sales out of the equation, exports would have posted at least a £40m increase, with many product sectors and export markets performing well.  Key areas of growth continue to come from added value foods and the developing markets such as the Asia Pacific region.”

The UK now exports food and drink products to 212 markets across the world from as far afield as the US to Tajikistan. While sales were up to 116 of these countries, total exports to the non-EU and EU markets were down 1% and 3% respectively.

Good performances in the Asia and Oceania (+4%) and Eastern Europe (+2%) resulted in the non-EU market being just below its 2000 level. Most notable were Japan – the largest and most important market in the Asia and Oceania region – increasing by 10%, Singapore continuing to show an impressive growth of 11%, the Czech Republic (+12%) and Australia up 4%.                  

However, the picture is not so positive across the Atlantic with exports to the USA down 4% on 2000, reflecting the downturn in its economy. This was mirrored in the EU region as a whole, with poor performances in most countries caused by the meat and dairy export restrictions and the weak euro. Only Ireland – the UK’s largest export market, and Greece posted increases of 2% each.

The performance of added value foods in relation to commodity products is still continuing to rise, despite these overall market declines: with added value products up by 5% to £6.1bn, while commodities continue to decline further by 14% to £2.3bn.

Drinks continue to be one of the key performers in 2001. Exports rose by 6% across the whole sector, with whisky up 8% and soft drinks up by 10%. Other product sectors that have recorded increases in 2001 include: fresh and frozen fish (+11%), shellfish (+6%), cheese (+20%), tea (+10%), sweet biscuits (+16%) and sauces (+12%). 

“2001 had some of the most difficult trading conditions experienced by UK exporters for many years,” continued McNair. “However, we are confident that the resilience and commitment shown by many of our food and drink exporters to increase international sales, will enable them to take advantage of the upturns in the market as they arise.

“FFB has also recently completed comprehensive research on British food in overseas markets, giving a clear insight into what international consumers and trade buyers really think of our food and drink.  Once these results are available, we will be working with companies to help them identify the best methods to achieve international success.”

Top ten food and drink export markets

Country Value (£m) %+/-
Ireland 1,291 +2
France 1,041 -4
USA 799 -4
Spain 718 -3
Germany 534 -4
Netherlands 415 -1
Italy 311 -11
Belgium/Luxembourg 285 -7
Japan 252 +10
South Korea 184 +9

Source: Food From Britain