UK food and non-alcoholic beverage exports are up by 2.5% after a disappointing first quarter, according to a report by the UK’s Food and Drink Federation (FDF), yet industry must do more to stop from "slipping behind".
The report shows that while the year got off to a stumbling start, with quarter 1 (Q1) food and non-alcoholic drinks exports down by 3.4%, a strong quarter 2 (Q2) growth of 9% means that together in the first half of 2013 food and beverage exports grew by 2.5% to a value of £6.1bn.
“Q1 started slowly with the Eurozone gripped by recession and extreme weather, and the UK still feeling the effects of a disappointing 2012 harvest. However, Q2 was much better as the EU pulled out of recession and consumer confidence grew,” FDF's economic and commercial services director, Steve Barnes, said.
Barnes told FoodNavigator that although these new figures are encouraging, the UK industry is "sort of slipping behind", explaining "only one in ten British food and drink manufacturing companies export, which is considerably below the French, German and Italian markets, for example".
Export markets: The EU and China
“The performance to non-EU markets was hugely encouraging in particular and a credit to companies investing to grow internationally,” Barnes said.
Exports to EU member states were up by 1%, yet this modest increase was overshadowed by a growth of 7.5% in exports to non-EU markets. The report pinpoints a boom in British pork in China - exports for which increased by 591% - as the reason behind this and China's entrance into the top 10 markets for food and drink companies.
"I suppose [China] has had all these dreadful food scares and does actually see Britain in particular as a provider of safe, nutritious food. So our products are naturally going to be appealing because of the provenance of what we provide," Barnes explained.
Barnes explained that expanding into new markets can offer companies an opportunity to hedge risks. "What I would say, I would always caution that I have a suspicion that people see the exiting emerging markets and think great we should target those but actually our biggest market is Ireland and then France, Holland and Germany. So closer to home is where the easier opportunities to convert are simply because distance is a barrier," he explained.
"I suspect there are a lot of expensive lessons to be learnt trying to supply China from day one. But I think if you've got experience then why wouldn't you target China?" he added.
These food and beverage figures are particularly strong considering overall UK exports figures during the same time period were down by 3.3%, according to the report.
However Barnes said: “Despite the good news, there is huge untapped potential for boosting UK food and drink exports.”
"There's a part to play as well in terms of raising awareness of the opportunity to export which I think FDF has a responsibility to do, but also the government has a responsibility to do as well. They offer some excellent services through UKTI to be honest, but they're just too low profile in our industry," he told FoodNavigator.
Last week the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) announced its involvement in the Open To Export Food & Drink Focus Week, a joint-initiative with the UK Trade & Investment, which aim to encourage small and medium-sized food and beverage companies to be more proactive in exportation to new markets. The event starts today and will run until September 27.