The firms are expecting to serve up thousands of new jobs by the end of the decade boosted by tastier global demand, with the survey suggesting that optimism in the sector is “universal”. All firms are expecting to grow over the next five years, up from 98 per cent in 2014.
More than four in five firms forecast up to 25 per cent growth over the next five years with mergers and acquisitions highlighted as the key growth driver.
The majority of bosses are focused on entering new markets in the UK (56 per cent), and developing new products (55 per cent), as a way of achieving their growth ambitions.
The survey found that given this optimism firms were planning to create over 73,000 new jobs over the next five years.
Some 72 per cent also planned to export, up from 63 per cent in 2014 – with Western Europe remaining the most popular market. This is followed by North America, the Far East and Asia.
The firms said they were hoping to capitalise on the “provenance of produce abroad” as foreign consumers increasingly enjoy a “Made in Britain” or Wales label. A huge 88 per cent of manufacturers believed English and Welsh produce had an excellent reputation overseas.
However with the sector facing the retirement of hundreds of thousands of workers by 2020, over a quarter of food manufacturing firms (28 per cent) said a lack of skilled labour was one of the biggest challenges.
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Andrew Connors, head of mid-sized business at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “Productivity presents an ongoing challenge for the UK economy. Against this backdrop, the continued commitment from food and drink manufacturers to drive productivity and innovation through R&D is a clear indication of the crucial role this sector plays in the broader economy.”
Ian Wright, director general at the Food and Drink Federation, said: “Britain’s food and drink industry is world class. Although many of the most dynamic and best-loved food and drink brands originate here in the UK, our producers are exporting innovative techniques and ways of working worldwide.
“Trading internationally is a real driver for growth, especially the opportunities offered by non-EU markets and developing economies. Our continued and growing success abroad speaks to the popularity of UK plc and our food and drink manufacturers’ track record of producing original, quality products.”
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