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Increased appetite for UK food and drink abroad

11 December 2015

The UK food and drink manufacturing sector grew by 6% in 2014 to a total of 8,225 firms, according to analysis of the latest official ONS data by Santander Corporate & Commercial – making it one of the UK’s most successful industries. 

Indeed, figures from the Food and Drink Federation reveal the sector to be the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, with a turnover of £95.4 billion and accounting for 18.3% of the total manufacturing sector by turnover.

In contrast to this success, however, a third of Brits (33%) believe that the food and drink sector is struggling. Moreover, nearly a fifth (18%) think British food is unpopular around the world – the reality is that the sector exports almost £12.8 billion of food and non-alcohol drink products a year, 75% of which goes to the European Union.

In terms of food and drink, Britons believe the UK exports the most to the US (39%), Ireland (32%), Spain (24%) and France (20%). In reality, Ireland is our biggest export market, followed by France, the Netherlands and Germany, with the US coming in at number five. Beers and wines (28%) top the list of items we would like to see exported around the world, followed by cheese and dairy (26%), local meats (18%), local confectionary (16%) and spirits (15%). More than half (57%) of Brits believe whisky to be our biggest export.

However, while many correctly identified salmon, cheese and beef as being on the list of our biggest exports, the list did not include chocolate, which is the UK’s biggest food export: the popularity of British chocolate brands are worth some £257 million to the UK economy. Chocolate is also reported as the most missed food by Brits when they travel abroad.

The research also found that many consumers in the UK do not view provenance as important when buying food and drink. More than a fifth (21%) admit to not looking where their food and drink comes from and only 18% always look for local products. 

Mark Collings, Head of International, Santander SME Banking, said: “The UK food and drink manufacturing sector has become a major UK success story on an international scale. British people are proud of their local produce and certainly miss their favourite tea, chocolate, meat and cheese when travelling abroad, yet many do not realise quite how popular these items have become beyond our shores. Over the years the “Made in Britain” brand has become synonymous with good quality products and services. 

“At Santander we want to help food and drink businesses really capitalise on this global success and have developed strong expertise to help firms grow and export – in particular we want to help them recognise the international potential of their products and look at exporting opportunities.”

According to the ONS data1, the number of manufacturers of beverages in the UK rose 17% to 1,390 firms for 2014, the second fastest-growing industrial sector year-on-year in the UK. The number of food manufacturing businesses increased by 4% to 6,835 firms – meaning that, overall, the combined number of food and drink manufacturers in the UK grew by 6% to a total of 8,225 firms.

London leads the combined food and drink manufacturing sector regionally in terms of the number of businesses, with 1,020 firms, followed by the North West (930), South East (855), South West (845) and Scotland (815).


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