UK food and drinks exports have recorded the biggest first quarter on record, with figures showing considerable growth to non-EU markets.

In the first quarter of 2019 food and drink exports increased by 10.7% (y-o-y) to £5.8bn, almost twice the growth rate of Q1 2018, which saw a 6.3% increase.

Within that, food and drink export grew by 12.2% to non-EU markets, outpacing growth to EU markets which experienced an increase of 9.9%.

However, growth may slow over the rest of 2019 with foreign buyers signalling they are no longer willing to buy from UK exporters due to ongoing Brexit uncertainty.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) analysis shows growth of more than 20% was recorded in six of the UK’s top 20 food and drink export markets.

Japan recorded the highest growth rate at 52.5%. Exports of all of the top 10 products increased by value in Q1 2019, the strongest being salmon with growth of 40.9%.

Over the past 10 years, UK branded goods exports have increased by 110%. In Q1 2019, exports to the Netherlands (13.5%) grew the quickest out of the top five markets for branded goods.

FDF’s industry ambition is to grow exports of branded food and non-alcoholic drink by a third, from a 2014 baseline, to reach £6bn by 2020.

Saudi Arabia moves into top 20 exports markets

Five target markets - China, the Gulf region, the USA, Japan, and India - have been identified as offering significant growth potential for UK food and drink.

Sales to Saudi Arabia rose by 198% from Q1 2009 to Q1 2019. Between January and March 2019, exports grew by 28.6%, moving the country into the UK’s top 20 exports markets.

Saudi Arabia was also the 11th biggest buyer of UK branded goods, recording growth of 82%, driven by exports of breakfast cereals, chocolate and sweet biscuits.

The top five UK products sold to Saudi Arabia in Q1 were oats, breakfast cereals, chocolate, sweet biscuits and eggs.

Three-digit growth was recorded in nine of the top 20 UK export products sold to Saudi Arabia, including sugar (+3,782%).