With so many negative headlines around about the drop in exports of UK food and drink to the EU since Brexit, it’s great to see that the ONS data for May suggests that exports to the EU are up by 7 per cent on the same month last year. This is the first time that a direct month on month comparison has shown 2021 outperforming 2020 since the turn of the year and is a further indication that food and drink businesses are getting to grips with the initial challenges brought about by Brexit.
Putting aside the EU for a minute, it is important to acknowledge that exports of UK food and drink across all international markets for May were up by more than 20 per cent on the same month in 2020. A staggering increase that perhaps points to less demand last year towards the start of the pandemic, but may also reflect some of the new international relationships that UK food and drink manufacturers have developed over these past 12 months.
Opportunities aplenty for the UK F&D sector
The combination of diversification to target different international markets; adapting to a direct to consumer model to counter the dip in hospitality and food service business during the pandemic; and investment in new online channels has helped to rebalance levels of food and drink exports so far in 2021. But now, food and drink businesses are seeing a Brexit dividend as trade with the EU is back at the same level as before the UK left the union while the relationships with new international markets that have been developed over the 15 months present wider opportunities for food and drink businesses into the future.
As coronavirus restrictions ease, food and drink businesses will see a boost in hospitality and food service coming back as capacity increases and consumer confidence improves; but some pandemic behaviours may remain, such as consumers buying more local and seasonal products and investing in higher quality food and drink at home.
The future looks bright
All of this means that the future looks bright for the UK food and drink industry and the challenge might revolve around prioritising the growth opportunities that are available to the sector. Data analysis will become increasingly important as we transition out of restrictions to highlight where the future growth will come from and what consumer behaviours will remain. Using data to maximise the opportunities, and mitigate any potential risks, as the economy recovers should be on the mind of business leaders in the industry.