Santander and manufacturing association EEF are behind the food and drink market report, offering an optimistic forecast for the years to come. The industry is the largest in the manufacturing sector, accounting for 16 per cent.
According to the findings, in 2016 the value of food and drink exports crossed £20bn for the first time, with goods reaching 217 markets – up by five on the previous year.
And that milestone was achieved even though just one in five food and drink manufacturers in the UK currently export. It means food and drink demand across the globe is set to increase further if companies embrace international markets because, despite Brexit concerns, the made in Britain method is appealing overseas.
“Europe is the biggest destination for UK food and drink exports and the majority of export opportunities for UK businesses remain close to home,” said Nicola Thomas, head of food & drink sector, Santander Corporate & Commercial.
“But the UK’s strong reputation for the high standards of its food, safety, animal welfare and sustainability in countries such as China and India, combined with a growing and affluent middle class in these regions, and the focus on western-style produce presents an opportunity for UK food and drink manufacturers to enter relatively untapped markets.
“Santander has been working with increasing numbers of UK food and drink manufacturers as they look to export and trade internationally, and we can testify to the strong interest in capitalising on global growth opportunities and the positive demand for UK goods both in Europe and further afield.”
Indeed, Europe accounts for 60 per cent of all exports from the UK food and drink industry, the continent has experienced an 85 per cent growth of exports over the past 20 years.
However, Asia and Oceania growth has experienced a 155 per cent export growth over the period, while food and drink export to the Americas grew 154 per cent and by 109 per cent in the Middle East and Africa. The latter has presents a particularly broad opportunity as it accounts for just eight per cent of UK food and drink exports.
In terms of beverages alone, the UK is the second largest exporter in the world, driven by its speciality in alcohol. The nation paves the way globally for whisky exports, with the drink accounting for £4bn in overseas sales.
Beyond export opportunities, the sector also stands to benefit from more appetite for health foods and clean lifestyles among consumers, more productive manufacturing through technology enhancements, sustainability and online shopping.
George Nikolaidis, senior economist at EEF, added: “The food and drink industry has displayed remarkable resilience during the various ups and downs in market conditions over the past few years. It has maintained its position as the largest manufacturing sector in the UK.
“The ability of food and drink manufacturers to grow and broaden their export base has been a key part of this success. In order to harness the range of challenges on the horizon, the sector will need to continue to explore new export opportunities, embrace product and process innovation, as well as ensure it adapts to evolving consumer trends.”