Thursday, 25 June 2009

Booze boosts British food & drink exports

British “booze cruises” to pick up cheap alcohol from continental Europe may be on the wane with the collapse of the pound against the Euro, but alcoholic drinks are a mainstay of the UK’s food and drink exports. A study by Leatherhead Food International for the Food and Drink Federation, UK Food and Drink Export Performance 2008 shows an enormous rise in the value of UK food and drink exports, partly attributed to rising commodity prices and the devaluation of the pound against the Euro and other currencies. Food and drink exports were worth £9.23.billion, but when alcoholic drinks are included, exports totalled £13.6 billion. So, alcoholic drinks make up almost one-third of the value of the UK’s food and drink exports, at over £4.3 billion.

Some of the other product categories noted as strong export performers are notable for the key ingredients being imported; tea exports are up by over 14 per cent, and chocolate by nearly 11 per cent. In 2007 chocolate exports totalled nearly £316 million. The value of UK tea exports was almost as high as the value of exports at over £159 million. The value of coffee exports was even higher at over £180 million. Exports of these high value products made with imported ingredients makes the UK look even less self-sufficient in food than the widening food trade deficit would indicate. Defra statistics show that in 2007 food and drink exports were £6.56 billion, with imports more than three times the value at almost £20 billion.

The UK food trade deficit is particularly acute with fruit and vegetables. By 2007, the value of exports was more than six times that of exports at £6 billion. The growing popularity of allotment and garden growing (like these peas in the photo) may be in the news, but in reality it can be difficult to follow heath guidance to eat more fruit and veg, whilst reducing food miles by eating local produce. Bizarrely, the UK’s fruit exports include produce which did not originate here, so banana exports were valued at over £21 million, about 50 per cent more than apple exports at £13 million. As usual, the supply chain for our food is more convoluted than it appears.

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