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Without food imports, the UK would struggle to feed itself.

In 2020, the UK imported 46 per cent of the food it consumed with an overall value of £28 billion. This is a significant figure, a large part of which is made up of fruit and vegetables.

While the UK grows around 50 per cent of the vegetables it consumes, it only produces 16 per cent of the fruit it eats. Without imports, the UK diet would be less varied, more seasonal in what was available, and in all likelihood, our food bills would be higher.

So, the UK relies on food imports to ensure everyone has access to a wide range of products all year round. In turn, the UK contributes to the global food supply, sending vegetables to mainland Europe during our most productive periods, as well as a vast array of ingredients and finished products across the globe all year round.

While established supply chains ensure our supermarkets have the fresh produce they need, there are countless opportunities to import food products into the UK.

Perhaps you’ve spotted a niche, high-end product overseas that is difficult to locate in UK shops, or you’ve a passion for particular products that are not widely available.

Maybe there’s a gap in the market that you think a certain product produced outside the UK could fill, or you’re looking for certain products for your food business.

If you’re considering importing food to UK markets, then there are a range of factors to consider.

When you import food to UK markets or for personal or business use, you need to know the regulations that are applied to specific products.

There are also general rules to consider around labelling and additives.

Failure to comply could cause delay and require action by the enforcement authorities.  For that reason, it is important you familiarise yourself with the rules for importing food.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) provides comprehensive guidance about importing and exporting food into Great Britain and Northern Ireland.


Can you import food into the UK?

Yes. Every day, millions of pounds worth of food, feed and drink (FFD) products are imported into the UK.

Imports are an essential part of the UK’s food supply and the trade generated by imports and exports supports thousands of jobs across a range of sectors.

There are rules and regulations governing food imports into the UK which are important to understand. Restrictions and regulations apply to certain products, such as foods of animal origin and products considered high risk due to the presence of certain contaminants. It’s important to understand these regulations prior to beginning the import process as failure to comply with regulations may result in products being confiscated or fines being imposed.


Do I need a licence to import food to the UK?

For most FFD products a licence is not required.

However, if you want to import animal products, or composite products containing animal products, then a licence is needed. One is also required for products that may be considered high-risk, such as those at risk of contaminants.

UK food import rules are frequently evolving and being updated so it’s important to be aware of any regulatory changes.

Working with an import and export company can make the process easier, and in most cases will be essential for successful food importation into the UK.


What foods cannot be brought into the UK?

While outright bans on foodstuffs are rare and are usually applied in the event of a particular food safety issue arising in the supplier country, rules and regulations are in place to govern the importation of certain foodstuffs.

An outright ban on any product made using an endangered species is completely illegal in the UK.  Likewise, foods that are contaminated or at potential risk of contamination and do not meet the UK’s safety and quality standards are also prohibited.

The types of products where regulations are in place include:

  • Meat and dairy
  • Fish and seafood
  • Products containing specific additives or ingredients

It’s vital that before you consider importing any food products into the UK that you check the latest regulatory requirements from the Food Standards Agency and are aware of UK food import rules.


Can I bring food from the EU to UK after Brexit?

The rules around importing food to the UK after Brexit did see some regulatory changes.

Phased controls on Products of Animal Origin (POAO) from the EU were introduced in July 2022. However, broadly speaking the regulatory requirements remained the same to ensure that supply chains were not suddenly disrupted.

Over time, the UK now has the ability to diverge from the EU, meaning that the regulations are likely to evolve and develop further in the future.

Working with a food import service will ensure that you don’t inadvertently fall foul of these changing regulations.


Streamline food imports with SSO International Forwarding

There are countless opportunities for businesses looking to import food into the UK, but it’s one area of import and export where there’s little room for error when it comes to the regulatory requirements.

These are always changes, and whereas EU membership gave some predictability to these regulations, UK regulations have evolved since Brexit.

The UK now has the ability to go it alone with regulations regarding food standards and imports in a way that it previously didn’t. Also, with trade agreements being signed with different countries, new opportunities and simplified importation rules may come into force over time.

At SSO International Forwarding, our food shipping services remove the guesswork from importing food to the UK. We understand that food products require careful handling and our experienced team takes every care to ensure the safety and integrity of your consignments.

We are a trusted partner for UK food import and export businesses, working with a growing number of businesses of different sizes to help them expand into new markets.

Contact our experienced team to find out more about our services and how we work.

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