A hard winter but a better spring beckons for the food and drink sector

Like a lot of the economy the Food and Drink (F&D”) sector has faced many challenges caused by COVID.  In addition a perfect storm of further full UK lockdown for Q1 2021 and Brexit actually happening have further added to these challenges….but spring beckons…

The Brexit impact so far?

It is difficult to say with absolute certainty what the impact of Brexit has been and may be on the F&D sector, but the FDF statistics around export and imports in January 2021 are quite eye watering. All exports are down by 50 per cent (£0.75bn) year on year with the EU percentage of that down by 75 per cent and the converse re imports shows a reduction from the EU into the UK by c25 per cent (c£0.5bn).

Some of the direct impacts on UK food are particularly evident on export of whisky, cheese, salmon, beef and fish and this must be a major concern for Government. The industry continues to express loudly the view that increased paperwork preparation required for food and agricultural exports to the EU are having a severe impact and this is being made worse by the continued closures of restaurants, hotels and other hospitality outlets across Europe. The reduction on imports does not mirror the reduction in exports but is noticeable that we ate less European pork, chicken and beef – wine is another noticeable reduction with that being less easy for the UK to produce locally.

The UK market presents an opportunity

Clearly the EU will continue to be a hugely important market for parts of the UK F&D industry and we hope that given time, some of this disruption becomes easier for the sector to handle. But perhaps for some businesses, Brexit might be a catalyst for change.

Many UK F&D manufacturers we know are looking at developing more sales to the UK consumer as we speak. Perhaps the UK wine industry can grow to become a more viable option to quaff in your home rather than a French, Italian or Spanish vintage? I do think opportunities are there for UK F&D to further embrace the message “buy local and buy seasonally” and also to explore variations of products which previously were exported to the EU.  Seafood is an example of this with the sector having developed an excellent high value supply chain from boat to EU dinner plate over many years. Now, more seafood businesses are exploring the UK market and the direct to consumer model.  One of the key drivers for UK F&D has been a global reputation for quality and for me some of that has been missed by UK consumers given these established supply chains. There are also trends developing in the industry that are here to stay and continue to present opportunity. 

A growing market for healthy products

Healthy eating and drinking will continue to develop as consumers become increasingly aware and this continues to create space in the market for new products and ingredient changes for existing ones. The pandemic has probably accelerated some of these changes with public health being under the spotlight for the last 12 months and we can expect further Government tax legislation on unhealthy food and drink in the years to come. 

Buy locally and buy seasonally to support our UK F&D sector 

It is fair to say a reasoned view of this turmoil is hard to take but we will continue to watch the trends across the sector with interest. Global markets await UK F&D along with a renewed relationship with the UK consumer – adding these together once we emerge from the pandemic, I hope this bodes well for getting the industry back onto a sustainable growth trajectory.

Go on “buy local and buy seasonal” to support our industry during a difficult time – we have so much to be proud of and I will be adopting this more and more in the coming months!