Contrary to popular belief, the UK has a rich culinary culture and a thriving food sector.
Our food industry not only grows, processes, and develops much-loved food products for the domestic market, but we also export large quantities overseas.
Customers around the world value UK food and drink exports, from high-end alcoholic drinks to everyday ingredients.
In fact, food and drink is the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector, a national success story made possible by a complex network of logistical services.
What foods are exported from the UK?
UK food and drink exports are varied.
From finished products to essential ingredients, UK food exporters ship goods across the globe.
There are a range of opportunities for UK growers, producers and manufacturers to take advantage of international markets.
And as the UK signs new trade agreements across the world, the range and variety of overseas markets are likely to expand.
- Breakfast Cereals
- Soft Drinks
Scottish Whisky is consistently the UK’s highest-value export with established markets across the world, particularly the US and Japan.
Salmon outperforms competitors in the food sector, with France the largest market.
Chocolate products are never far behind, from luxury brands to mass-market favourites.
Cheese, beer and shellfish continue to be exported in huge quantities, with the latter being a particular favourite in Spain and Southern Europe. Other significant UK food and drink exports include jams and preserves, breakfast cereals, tea and biscuits.
Fresh and processed fruit and vegetables are exported from the UK in season, with apples, pears and peas being some of the most popular.
While a number of headline products take a significant percentage of the market, UK food and drink exports are incredibly diverse and varied.
New producers enter the market every year, expanding from their UK base into the global marketplace. Working with an international forwarding company can make the process easier.
How much food is exported from the UK?
The amount of food that is exported from the UK can vary year-on-year, depending on the global economy, trade agreements and international demand.
Recent data from the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) show that exports during the first half of 2023 rose to £12 billion. This is up nearly 0.5 billion from the same period in 2022.
The data reveals strong growth in sales to European markets, with growing trade with India and Turkey.
During the first half of 2023, food exports to the EU grew by 7.6 per cent, taking it to record levels despite Brexit. This contributed to an overall increase in the value of UK food exports of nearly four per cent.
However, global food and commodity inflation has impacted on the value of the food and drink that has been exported from the UK.
While the value of UK food and drink exports has increased, the volume has reduced reflecting higher prices.
These strong figures represent a UK success story recognising the fact that growing numbers of UK food production companies are moving into international markets.
Despite periodic challenges such as instability and inflation, UK food and drink exporters have been able to expand their horizons.
What fruit and veg does the UK export?
Fruit and vegetable exports make up a significant part of overall UK food and drink exports.
During the first couple of decades of the 21st century, the value of the UK fruit and vegetable exports rose broadly year on year.
However, in 2022 they began to rise again reaching 1,008 million GBP. The UK is a significant component in the overall European fruit and vegetable supply chain and that is likely to continue.
UK fresh fruit and vegetable exports are largely seasonal. In terms of fruit, the UK is a significant exporter of apples, pears, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, plums, cherries and rhubarb.
When it comes to vegetables, potatoes remain the UK’s biggest single export vegetable. This is followed by carrots, onions, peas, other root vegetables and brassicas. Fresh fruit and vegetable imports are impacted significantly by weather, seasonal demand as well as fluctuations in the domestic market.
It’s also important to remember that the UK exports significant quantities of processed vegetables. These may be frozen and packaged or prepared into particular dishes or other foods such as crisps and chips.
Does the UK export rice?
It may come as a surprise to learn that the UK is the 39th most significant exporter of rice globally.
While the UK’s rice exports are a drop in the ocean compared to the big rice producers across the world such as China and India, the UK exported $33.4M in 2021, making it the 636th most exported product in the United Kingdom.
The biggest markets for UK rice exports from the UK are the Netherlands, France, Ireland, Germany and Belgium. The fastest-growing export markets for UK rice over the last few years were Gambia, Syria and Australia.
As the UK is not a significant rice-growing region, most rice products exported from the UK are grown elsewhere. Rice is processed and packaged in the UK and then exported to overseas markets.
This highlights the diversity of UK food exports. The UK has historical and cultural links across the globe making it a hub for food processing globally.
There are significant opportunities for ambitious companies to export a wide range of products from the UK to new or established international markets.
What countries does the UK export to?
The UK exports goods right across the world in varying quantities.
European Union countries remain the UK’s biggest export market despite the impact of Brexit.
The countries closest to the UK geographically remain significant markets for UK food and drink, particularly when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables. These include the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and Scandinavia.
In southern Europe, Spain and Portugal are significant consumers of UK-caught seafood. UK food and drink products such as biscuits, confectionery and beverages are also popular across European markets.
Beyond Europe, the United States is a significant marketplace for UK food and drink exports. This includes Scotch whisky, tea and speciality products.
North of the border, Canada imports a wide range of UK food and drink products, the market boosted by a significant portion of the population with recent British roots who seek out much-loved brands.
The growing middle class in China has created opportunities for food exporters. Chinese consumers particularly enjoy whisky, pork and dairy products.
Also in Asia, there is a strong established Japanese market for whisky, along with seafood.
Beef is a growing export to the Asian markets. As well as the Asian “big two”, the UK also exports a growing quantity of goods to smaller markets such as Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Thailand.
India is an increasingly important market for UK food and drink exports, particularly tea, whisky, chocolate and luxury products.
With their strong links to Britain, Australia and New Zealand are big markets for much-loved British products, particularly biscuits and confectionery, UK alcoholic and soft drinks.
Whisky and specialist products, including iconic British brands such as Marmite, are also popular in Australia and New Zealand.
A small but growing market exists in Middle Eastern states such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE. South Africa remains a small but consistent marketplace for UK exporters.
Who is the UK’s biggest export partner?
Unsurprisingly, our next-door neighbour the Republic of Ireland is our biggest export market.
The food and drink markets of the UK and Ireland are highly interwoven and connected, with the UK as the biggest market for Irish goods. The two national food and drink markets in effect largely work as a single market for food and drink.
So far in 2023, exports from the UK to Ireland have increased by 100 million, reaching record heights with the market still showing clear signs of growth.
Alongside Ireland, the UK’s next biggest export partners are its near neighbours on the continent such as France and the Netherlands. These not only import products such as whisky, tea and chocolate but also fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as meat and seafood.
Becoming a UK food and drink exporter
This is a relatively buoyant time for UK food and drink exports. With new trade agreements being signed and some of the initial difficulties caused by Brexit being ironed out, the market is continuing to grow.
If you’ve never exported to international markets before it can seem daunting.
Working with an international forwarding company like SSO International simplifies the process. We can handle the complicated bureaucracy, arrange the most appropriate transportation option, arrange collection and storage and ensure a streamlined process.
We’re specialists when it comes to food and drink exports. We can advise how to move into international markets, giving you the support you need to achieve your goals and grow your business.
We can help reduce risk, ensuring your goods reach their destination as quickly and safely as possible.