Exports smash records

British food and drink exports have broken previous trading records and reached an all time high in 2006, according to figures released by market development consultancy, Food from Britain (FFB).

Finishing the year at £10.5billion, food and drink exports have increased by 5.8% in the last 12 months alone, exceeding the previous highest level of £10.1 billion achieved a decade ago (1996) prior to BSE export restrictions.

This is the result of four years of successive growth, recovering from a low in 2002 of £9.2 billion. A widening portfolio of food and drink products has been key to Britain's recent export success said FFB, which appeal to overseas retailers for branded and private label ranges, as well as the growing foodservice opportunity. Diversification into new and emerging markets has also brought significant returns.

"As British beef finally returns to overseas menus, we have seen our food and drink exports reach an all time high," said David McNair, FFB chief executive. "This heralds the end of a difficult decade, but one which we emerge stronger from and with a solid and more diverse platform for future growth. There are now more opportunities than ever for our food and drink manufacturers overseas but competition is equally as fierce from exporting heavyweights such as France, Germany and the US. We need to recognise exporting as a strategic route to long-term growth and benefit from such experience to allow us to compete more effectively both at home and abroad."

With an increase of 7.2% in 2006, food and drink exports to the EU continue to see strong growth, and now account for £6.9 billion - 68.8% of all exports.

Ireland remains the UK's number one market with an 8.9% increase to £1.99 billion, while France at number two also experienced significant growth, up 11.1% to £1.37 billion. Germany and The Netherlands also showed strong recovery in 2006, gaining 5% and 25.9% respectively to finish the year at £607.9 million and £513.6 million.

Two years after the EU Accession, the successful integration of the new member states is now paying dividends, with exports to these countries showing some of the strongest growth in 2006, albeit from a low base.

Poland was one of the star performers in this region, with sales up 26% to £69.5 million, while other notable increases came from Estonia, up 214% to £32.1 million, the Czech Republic up 13% to £24.3 million and Hungary, up 49% to £21.9 million.

Exports have also seen good recovery in the non-EU region, again showing an increase of 3.1% to £3.59 billion, significantly contributing to the overall performance in 2006. The North American markets continue to lead the way, accounting for nearly a third of exports to this region. Disappointing growth in Asia Pacific was offset by a strong performance from China and Singapore, where FFB has been actively promoting British food and drink, which grew by 8.2% and 26.9% respectively.

According to the annual export figures released by FFB, there were two star performing product categories in 2006 - drinks and meat. The total drinks market was up 7.4% on 2005, finishing the year at £3.74 billion.

There was also good news for UK farmers as exports of meat rose by 4% to £764.6 million in 2006. Lamb continues to be Britain's largest meat export, with £232.6 million shipped overseas last year, up 8.8%. However, it was beef that stole the show as it saw a 10-year export ban lifted - sales bounced back 320.9% to £80.1 million and this is definitely one to watch in the coming years. France continues to be a key market for UK meat, and sales rose by 5.2% last year to £202.1 million, while The Netherlands also showed a strong performance in this category, increasing by 41.6% to £60.5 million and becoming our third largest export market in 2006.

"2006 has been a record year for UK food and drink exporters - 9 out of our top 10 markets have shown considerable growth and new emerging markets, such as China, Russia and Dubai, have continued to expand at a good pace," continued David McNair. "All the signs looking promising for a positive future of our food and drink exports, and we are confident that the next decade will see this upward trend continue."