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UK export volumes hit major low, FDF reports

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UK food export volumes have dropped to “one of the lowest levels” booked in the past 15 years, according to new findings from the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

New data from the industry body found national food export volumes declined by more than 20% in the first quarter year-on-year to 2.2bn kilograms.

This marks the lowest level of food export volumes in the country since the first quarter 2021, when the UK food industry saw the end of the Brexit transition phase and still facing the effects of the pandemic.

Export volumes for goods in litres declined 2.5% in the first quarter to 256.5m, while volumes of alcoholic products dropped 6.7% to 108.5m litres of pure alcohol.

The value of exports dropped 5.3% on the year prior to £5.7bn ($7.29bn).

The decrease was mainly driven by “several significant EU markets”, the FDF said. Ireland remains the UK’s top export market, despite a 3.5% fall in exports year-on-year to £1bn.

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The Netherlands, the UK’s fourth-largest export market, was worth £467m in the period, a 13.3% drop on 2023.

Spain, the UK’s eight-biggest export destination saw the biggest drop in exports in Q1 24 of 33.3%, to £160.6m.

The FDF said it expects a combination of the effects of ‘Not for EU’ labelling and inflationary cost pressures to continue to strain growth in some of its key export markets.

For the first time, Turkey entered the UK’s list of top twenty markets in the period, with exports growing 0.8% to £60m. The FDF has recommended the UK develops an “improved” Free Trade Agreement.

In its second and third largest markets, France and the US, the UK saw growth of 2.3% and 6.1%, to £646.9m and £595.6m respectively. India grew the most out of all the UK’s other major markets at 25.7% to £67.8m.

When it came to volumes for specific products, breakfast cereals booked the largest annual decline of 14.4% in the first quarter period. This was followed by chocolate, which dipped 7.4% in volumes and milk and cream, which saw a 4.9% decrease year-on-year.

Breakfast cereals export value dropped 8.8% to £156m, while for chocolate this slumped 1.5% at £211.4m, and by a whopping 42.2% for milk and cream to £178.9m.

Fish and cheese achieved the largest export volumes growth of 27.8% and 23.4% respectively. Both products saw export values 8.6% and 5.6% respectively, to £168.4m and £216m.

With regards to beverages, soft drinks export value grew 9.2% on 2023 to £144.7m. Whisk(e)y export volumes declined 4.3%, while value was also down 8.8%, at £1.2bn.

Balwinder Dhoot, director of industrial growth and sustainability at the FDF, said: “Trade in food and drink plays a critical role in the UK’s food supply resilience and the industry contributes billions to the UK economy.

“Our analysis is concerning, with food export volumes seeing a significant decline by over a fifth on the year.

“The next government must help unlock the full competitive trade potential of the UK’s largest manufacturing sector by delivering a trade strategy that builds business confidence and provides greater support for exporters to arrest this decline.”


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