Salmon a bright spot in declining UK food and drink exports

Published on
September 7, 2021
A salmon farm tucked into a bay in Scotland

A rise of more than 17 percent in overseas salmon sales was not enough to lift total U.K. food and drink exports in the first half of 2021.

According to the latest figures compiled by the country’s Food and Drink Federation (FDF), salmon exports generated revenues of GBP 355.9 million (USD 492.1 million, EUR 414.5 million) in the first six months of the year, compared with GBP 303.2 million (USD 419.2 million, EUR 353.2 million) in the corresponding period of 2020.

The total consolidated salmon’s position as the country's second-largest food and drink export by value, behind whiskey with GBP 2 billion (USD 2.8 billion, EUR 2.3 billion).

However, the U.K.’s salmon export value fell 9.8 percent short of pre-COVID H1 2019, when a total revenue of GBP 394.3 million (USD 545.2 million, EUR 459.3 million) was achieved.

First-half 2021 salmon exports to the E.U. totaled GBP 217.7 million (USD 301 million, EUR 253.6 million), up 26.7 percent on H1 2020, and 12.6 percent on H1 2019.

FDF observed that compared to the first-half of 2020, total U.K. food and drink exports fell by 4.5 percent in the first six months of this year to GBP 9.2 billion (USD 12.7 billion, EUR 10.7 billion). This value was also 17.3 percent less than in H1 2019.

While the E.U. continued to be the United Kingdom’s main market for food and drink products, accounting for GBP 4.9 billion (USD 6.8 billion, EUR 5.7 billion), FDF highlighted that the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 and the new trading relationship resulting from Brexit resulted in a drop in value of 15.9 percent compared with H1 2020, and 27.4 percent compared with H1 2019.

Exports to Ireland, which is the U.K.’s top export market, fell 22 percent compared to 2020, and 27 percent compared to pre-COVID data from 2019 – a loss of more than GBP 500 million (USD 691.3 million, EUR 582.4 million).

Total food and drink sales to non-E.U. countries were up 13 percent in the first half of 2021 to GBP 4.3 billion (USD 5.9 billion, EUR 5 billion), led by growth in trade with China, Singapore, Australia, Japan, and the Persian Gulf region. This increase means that non-E.U. exports are now almost back to pre-COVID levels, FDF said.

“The return to growth in exports to non-E.U. markets is welcome news, but it doesn’t make up for the disastrous loss of GBP 2 billion in sales to the E.U. It clearly demonstrates the serious difficulties manufacturers in our industry continue to face and the urgent need for additional specialist support,” FDF Head of International Trade Dominic Goudie said. “At the same time, we are seeing labor shortages across the UK's farm-to-fork food and drink supply chain, resulting in empty spaces on U.K. shop shelves, disruptions to deliveries, and decreased production. Unless steps are taken to address these issues, the ability of businesses to fulfill vital export orders will be impacted.”

U.K. imports of food and drink were down nearly 10 percent in H1 2021 compared to pre-COVID levels, although imports from non-E.U. markets increased during this period. Imports from the E.U. were badly impacted by the pandemic and the new trading relationship, falling nearly 15 percent since 2019, a loss of GBP 2.4 billion (USD 3.3 billion, EUR 2.8 billion).  

Photo courtesy of the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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