Overseas sales of food and drink reach record level

OVERSEAS sales of British food and non-alcoholic drinks hit a record high in 2009 despite an overall slump in the UK export market, according to fresh figures.

Britain's food and drink manufacturers boosted sales by 4.4 per cent to 9.65 billion last year even though the wider export market suffered an 11.8 per cent decline, according to the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

It is the fifth consecutive year that British food products and drinks have made significant progress in foreign markets.

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Soft drinks led the way, with sales growing by just under 21 per cent to 318.6m. Fish and seafood was another fast-growing sector, with sales up 15 per cent to 1.16bn. Exports of fresh salmon proved particularly popular, with UK fish exporters enjoying a 42.3 per cent rise in demand. The figures do not include alcoholic drinks.

Continental Europe was the main destination for products, accounting for some 79 per cent of sales last year. However, exports also saw a jump in demand in North America and the Oceania region where sales grew 14.8 per cent and 15.9 per cent respectively.

Melanie Leech, director of the FDF, said: "This is the fifth consecutive year of record exports by the food and drink industry – demonstrating the significant economic value of our sector. This strong performance is testimony to the persistence and entrepreneurial spirit of British manufacturers – as well as a reflection of the quality of what they produce."

One Scottish company that made particular progress last year was Macphie of Glenbervie, the Stonehaven-based firm which produces cake and bread mixes, sauces, toppings and deserts. The family business saw demand from European wholesale customers rise 16 per cent between 2008 and 2009 while year-on-year growth in the Middle East was 9 per cent.

Ireland, France and the Netherlands were the top destinations for British food and drink exports, but among the fastest-growing markets last year were Vietnam, where demand soared 68 per cent.

The findings from the FDF support the latest report due out today from the Ernst & Young Item Club, which predicts that Britain will enjoy an export-led recovery from 2011.

However, the influential group of economists warns that Britain's short-term prospects remain "dismal". They expect the economy will struggle to achieve 1 per cent GDP growth this year.