Growth in overseas sales of bread and cakes have contributed to UK food and drink exports rising to record levels.
Exports of all UK food and drink rose 8.3% year on year in the first quarter of 2017 to £4.9bn. This is the largest first-quarter exports value on record, according to the Food & Drink Federation (FDF).
Although the overall cereals and bakery exports sector declined 15% year on year to £560m, this drop was driven by a fall in exports of wheat and barley.
Exports in branded and value-added bakery goods maintained the strong growth seen in 2016, reported the FDF. Exports of bread, pastry and cakes increased 10.9% to £106.1m, while exports of sweet biscuits were up 7.4% to £68.4m.
In contrast, overall trade in cereal commodities fell 58.8%, with a 70.9% fall in exports of wheat to £37.7m, and a 59.8% fall in exports of barley to £34.2m.
This was the result of an improved harvest in Spain, which had been Britain’s biggest market for wheat and barley exports in 2016. Wheat and barley exports to Belgium grew over the period, however.
In terms of total food and drink exports, the UK’s top three products remain whisky, salmon and chocolate, while Ireland, France and the US are the top three destinations for UK food and drink.
The export markets with the greatest percentage growth were South Korea (+40.3%), Belgium (+37.3%), and South Africa (+31.2%).
The FDF said the fall in the value of sterling had helped boost UK exports, but had also led to an increase in the cost of imported ingredients and raw materials. This resulted in the UK’s food and drink trade deficit increasing by 19% to -£6.2bn in Q1.
“The growth of food and alcoholic drink exports we’ve seen in Q1 is very encouraging news for our industry,” said FDF director general Ian Wright.
“We want to work with government to take advantage of increased demand for UK products overseas and the opportunities that leaving the EU is expected to create. We would encourage the new government to look to Bord Bía (the Irish Food Board) as an inspiration in creating an organisation to help turbocharge sales of UK food and drink globally.”