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Demand for British booze bubbles over as exports soar 16% year-on-year

  • Exports now make up 15% of food and drink manufacturers’ business; up from 11% five years ago
  • Companies expect this to rise to 23% by 2023; banishing Brexit worries
  • Number of food and drink companies joining GS1 UK rockets 73% in a year

28 March 2018 – Appetite for British food and drink from overseas continues to strengthen with alcohol top of the menu, according to research conducted by supply chain and data standards organisation GS1 UK.

Its survey of its members from across the food and drink sector – featured in its report Brits Abroad: UK Food & Drink Exports in 2018 – found that the export of goods had risen by 12% in the year to November 2017, with alcoholic drinks outstripping this broader average with a 16% uptick.

With various estimates placing total UK food and drink exports around the £22bn mark in 2017, this 12% increase represents approximately £2.6bn of additional transactions.

Exporting also now comprises a larger proportion of these businesses’ overall activity than it did five years ago, accounting for 15% of their revenue, up from 11% in 2013. The most pronounced percentage was seen among non-alcoholic drinks and beverages, where exporting made up 22% of transactions. Fever-Tree has become the figurehead for this sub-sector and now distributes to more than 60 companies internationally.

The ongoing Brexit negotiations and uncertainty around what trade deals Britain may strike in the coming months hasn’t filtered down to homegrown food and drink businesses either, with confidence around exports remaining defiant.

Manufacturers in the sector expect exporting to account for 23% of their business by 2023 – up from 15% currently – and less than a third of those polled were fearful of a decrease in exports to the EU in particular.

Gary Lynch, CEO of GS1 UK, said: “British produce remains a byword for excellence around the world and our food and drink is exported to the four corners of the globe. With official Government figures showing that £22bn of it was sent overseas in 2017, there is clearly a lasting taste for British products and our members have optimistic expectations for the coming years. Whisky and salmon are very much our export staples, but the thirst for our beer and gin also continues to intensify.”

In terms of how they are getting their products to market, direct sales (including online transactions) account for two-fifths of the average exporter’s sales, but a further 39% is powered by enlisting the services of in-county agents of distributors.

Almost three-fifths of those surveyed (56%) expect direct sales to account for an even larger percentage of overall export sales in the next five years.

The Department for International Trade’s (DIT) efforts to promote and support overseas sales through its Exporting is GREAT campaign have not gone unnoticed either, with 76% of food and drink respondents saying they had worked with the DIT before.

More can be done to assist exporters by addressing issues around infrastructure and transport however, with those polled citing the cost of fuel, port infrastructure and airport capacity as potential obstacles to trade.

While GS1 UK’s food and drink members offer any item fit for human consumption that the mind can conceive, respondents were also asked what the single most popular item they exported is. Among the expected answers of particular IPAs or varieties of gin were some more novel responses including clove-flavoured rock, rabbit food, chipping potatoes and baby milk powder.

In addition to the survey of its food and drink members, analysis of GS1 UK’s own membership and new joiner data shows the level of craving for British produce – in 2016 162 companies from this sector signed up to GS1 UK, but in 2017 this rose to 280; an increase of 73%.

It’s not just the volume of new joiners that is on the rise either, with the size of these fresh faces also increasing too. The average turnover of drinks and beverage new joiners smashed the £1m barrier in 2017, up 9% to £1,056,000 from £973,000 12 months previously.

Gary Lynch, CEO of GS1 UK, said: “In one of our previous reports – Buying British – we looked at how Britons were increasingly turning to homegrown produce and Brits Abroad clearly shows that the rest of the world is following suit. It’s not just the usual Anglosphere suspects either, with data from The Food & Drink Federation showing that the fastest-growing markets include the likes of the Philippines, Latvia, Iceland, South Korea and Romania. From previously being considered something of a poor relation in terms of our international reputation for food and drink, we are now held in the highest esteem and long may it continue.”

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Notes to editors

For further information or requests for interviews, please contact Tim Haidar: 020 7092 3584 /

About GS1 UK

GS1 UK is a community of over 34,000 members working in retail, foodservice, healthcare and more. GS1 UK is one of 112 independent, not-for-profit GS1 organisations operating across 150 countries worldwide. GS1 UK helps everyone involved in making, moving and trading goods, automate and standardise their supply chain processes using the common language of GS1 global standards.