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Latest figures from market development network Food from Britain have revealed that the UK?s food and drink export market has experienced a record-breaking year, comfortably exceeding the ?11bn mark for the first time ever.

In 2007, despite the backdrop of a challenging global economy and the resurgence of Foot and Mouth Disease, the UK?s exports smashed the 2006 record by 9.1% bringing export figures to ?11.45bn and this strength shows no signs of waning, despite an increasingly difficult market ahead.

Chris Brockman, Research and Consultancy Manager at Food from Britain, said: ?Breaking the ?10bn barrier in 2006 was incredibly significant as it was the first time since BSE and Foot and Mouth Disease outbreaks that the export market had reached this level of business.

Chris continues: ?In the mid-1990s, beef exports had reached ?0.6bn alone ? to lose that, and still see total food and drink export performance grow in recent years, shows the resilience of the industry as a whole, which is why the latest outbreak of Foot and Mouth has had minimal impact on the annual results. The latest figures have more than surpassed our ambitious growth predictions and, with such a solid base, we expect that UK exports will continue to climb even though we are now entering a internationally testing economy.?

Significantly, food and drink exports grew ahead of imports for the first time in five years and while the trade gap has risen to around ?15bn, this shows how dynamic the UK?s export market has become.

All major product categories recorded positive results during the year, with the exception of soft drink exports which declined by 12.7 per cent to ?15,141m, due to a decrease of sales to a number of key European and North American markets. Poultry meat represents the largest UK export sector, valued at ?200.4m, with strong growth to most of Europe. Beef, once the backbone of the UK?s export market, continues to perform well, recapturing lost export markets and registering a 36% value growth in 2007 (but still well below the pre-BSE figure).

Chris Brockman added: ?The outbreak of Foot and Mouth in 2007 slowed the growth of a recovering meat industry but the impact on the food and drink export performance as a whole was negligible. I am optimistic that the high levels of innovation and efficiency that UK food and drink manufacturers continue to display, coupled with the growing reputation of UK food and drink worldwide, will help curb the difficulties of a slowing economy and the impact of rising global food costs, and we should experience an ongoing increase in UK exports.?

Seafood, cheese, cereals and confectionery strong
UK total exports of fish and seafood amounted to ?1,003.6m in 2007, increasing by 5.2% compared to the previous year. Similarly, dairy products have continued their run of popularity abroad, with export sales increasing by 11.9% to 805.4m in 2007, driven largely by cheese. Figures for cereals and bakery exports went up by 10.2% to ?1,361.7m while international sales of UK confectionery products also rose steadily to ?444.3m. Tea and coffee exports also climbed 3.5% to ?178.9 in 2007.

Ireland continues to be the leading export market and, with UK imports totalling ?2.242bn, and with 12.4% growth on 2007, the country is set to continue as the lead export market for years to come. France is the UK?s second largest export destination, with ?1.384bn worth of goods imported in 2007 and a modest 0.8% growth rate. The US has recorded a small decline in UK imports, but with the weak dollar set against the strong pound, this was perhaps inevitable.

Gibraltarians lead the way in the per capita consumption of the UK?s food and drink, followed by Irish and the Maltese. Chris Brockman says: ?It is perhaps unsurprising that the highest per capita consumers of UK food and drink tend to be located in either British ex-pat or tourist markets. Countries that represent good starter markets because of their proximity and receptiveness to British products and suppliers, such as Ireland, The Netherlands, Belgium and France, also show high per capita consumption of UK products.?

Development markets drive growth
In the EU, it is the new member states that have paid the highest dividends, albeit from a modest base. Slovakia registered a 112.5% growth (to ?8.5m) and Estonia recorded considerable growth of 44.9% to ?46.5m. Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary have witnessed a boom in demand for new food products and an increase in tourism has fuelled the demand for imported items, although local cuisine still dominates.

Strong performance in Non-EU markets came from the emerging economies of Russia (+14%), fuelled by growing demand for premium and speciality food; Dubai (+20%), fuelled by a continuing boom in the tourism and leisure infrastructure; and India (+32%), where an increasingly affluent middle class of 350 million are looking for new food experiences; as well as Singapore (+61%), where there was an increase of over 80% in exports of Scotch whisky as the country acts as a regional distribution hub for the rest of South East Asia.


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