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Overseas consumers clamouring for our food and drink

By: Justin Wright Date: 5 July 2017
Category: Article,Food and drink

Farmers and food producers everywhere are awaiting the results of the Brexit negotiations with bated breath - but in the meantime they are busy growing the UK’s food and drink export market.

The Food and Drink Federation reports that Britain exported a record amount of food and drink in the first quarter of 2017, with an 8.3 per cent year-on-year increase to £4.9 billion in the first three months of the year.

It would appear that the weak pound is making British products more competitive, and the overseas appetite for our produce continues to grow. It will be important for all producers to make the most of this opportunity and establish new markets before any potential barriers to trade appear when we leave the EU in 2019.

It is in non-EU markets where the growth in exports is most pronounced, with a massive 40 per cent increase in exports to South Korea. But it is important to bear in mind that even with this big increase, our £50 million worth of exports to that country are dwarfed by our nearest market, Ireland, which took some £854 million of our produce during the same period.

It is good news that we are finding new markets, but protecting our trading relationships with our key EU markets post-Brexit has to be the priority.

It is interesting to look at the top ten food and drink exports from the UK. Whisky and salmon top the list (something Scottish nationalists will no doubt be aware of), but also in the list are a number of products in which Norfolk has a strength: cheese, beer, wine, pork, gin, beef and vegetables.

That means that our county is well placed to take advantage of this export growth (and we can even piggy-back on the success of whisky, given that the only English whisky distillery is located in our county).

Brand UK has really made in-roads in overcoming prejudices about British food in recent years. A couple of decades ago, the idea of British cheese being an export success would have been a joke; now £145 million of the stuff was exported in the first quarter of this year alone.

The same story is true of English wine, and yet just recently we have seen a Norfolk wine (Winbirri’s Bacchus) declared the best single variety white wine in the world. Meanwhile Bullards’ Norwich Dry Gin has been declared the best London dry gin in the world.

The quality and reputation of British food and drink has never been stronger, and there are more export opportunities than ever before.

Finding and establishing those markets is something which producers are going to have to do for themselves.

It will be many months, if not years, before the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU – by far our biggest market for food and drink – is clear. Norfolk’s farmers and food and drink producers need to be taking advantage of the current appetite for British produce, and building overseas markets right now to protect their future.
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