Cereal success: Scotland ‘continues to punch above its weight’ with UK food exports

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Scotland is flying the flag for UK food and drink exports. Pic: GettyImages/georgeclerk
Scotland is flying the flag for UK food and drink exports. Pic: GettyImages/georgeclerk

Related tags FDF Scotland Food and drink federation Exports Scotland Wales Northern ireland Brexit coronavirus

Scotland, Wales and the northeast of England are showing the fastest rebound from challenges caused by COVID and Brexit, with local manufacturers taking advantage of new trading relationships around the world, according to research by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

Food and drink exports from England totalled £10.2bn in 2021, down 9% from 2020, and 15% lower than in 2019.

Scotland accounted for the lion’s share in 2021, while the northeast saw the largest increase – a 20.4% rise from 2020. Wales is the only nation to exceed pre-COVID export levels with £558m of exports in 2021, 13% higher than in 2019.

The FDF’s 2021 UK Food and Drink Exports report also reveals the cereal sector has recorded strong exports, with Wales showing a 173% increase since 2020, and Scotland up by 2.2%.

Scotland’s food and drink exports were up 15% in 2021 to £5.7bn, recovering significant lost ground, but still down on pre-COVID levels.

Scotland exports 1
Credit: Food & Drink Federation

“Scotland continues to punch above its weight – accounting for the largest share of UK food and drink exports - with an impressive 30% of total exports,”​ said David Thomson, FDF Scotland’s CEO.

“It’s heartening to see an increase in Scotland’s food and drink exports as the industry begins to recover from the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit. We hope that new opportunities will help further increase sales of Scotland’s food and drink abroad.

“We will continue to work with Scottish and UK governments and partners from across the food chain to support the recovery and growth of our vital industry.”

Key findings

Scotland accounts for 30% of the UK’s F&B exports – worth £5.7bn in 20202, up 15% from 2020.

France has usurped the US as Scotland’s largest export partner with exports now worth more than £1bn.

Exports to China nearly doubled in 2021 to nearly £225m, making up 4% of Scotland’s F&B exports.

According to FDF Scotland, Scotland’s share of exports to non-EU markets is increasing, opening opportunities for new trade deals with increased market access. However, it acknowledged that more can be done to improve the implementation of the UK-EU trade agreement to help companies recover exports following Brexit.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not factored into this report, and FDF said the full impact of global supply of ingredients such as cereals and vegetable oils – along with exports – is still to be realised.

Strong recovery

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said, “Scotland’s food and drink producers not only play a major role in our economy, these figures demonstrate that their high-quality products are being increasingly enjoyed by consumers across the world.

“I am always delighted to see Scottish food and drink products do well on the international stage and I would like to congratulate everyone involved in this significant achievement.

“These figures are set against the backdrop of significant challenges presented by the double blow of a global pandemic and Brexit and it is testament to the resilience of our ​producers and the quality of their products that the sector continues to make such a strong recovery.”

Digging down

In 2021, Wales’ exports were worth £558m, 13% higher than in 2019, driven by strong exports of cereals, up 173% since 2020, and now 132% higher than 2019 levels.

Ireland is Wales’ largest export partner, with exports up 7% since 2020, however, exports to France and Belgium have seen strong growth, at 42% and 163% respectively.

“Welsh food manufacturers are leading the way in putting the UK on the map while providing vital jobs for local people at the heart of our communities,”​ said Pete Robertson, CEO of FDF Cymru.

Northern Ireland’s F&B exports fell 1% in 2021 to £1.6bn, driven by a fall in the dairy and meat sectors.

A majority 61% of the region’s exports (61% worth £970 in 2021) head to the Republic of Ireland – more than 10x higher than the next biggest trade partner, the US.

“We are pleased to see signs of recovery in England’s exports, especially to non-EU markets and expect further strong improvement in 2022,”​ said Dominic Goudie, head of International Trade, FDF.

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