UK exports record amount of food and drink

salmon steaks Image copyright PA

Surging sales of salmon helped the UK to export a record amount of food and drink in the first quarter of 2017, the Food and Drink Federation has said.

The industry group said sales of the fish leapt more than 50% by value - to £186.7m - and 13% by volume.

British food and drink exports as a whole grew by 8.3% year-on-year to £4.9bn - the largest first quarter figure on record.

FDF credited better promotion of UK goods abroad, and the weaker pound.

Sterling has fallen by about 16% against the dollar since Britain voted to leave the EU last June, making UK produce more competitive overseas.

Chocolate and cheese

Quoting UK government figures, the group said whisky had remained the top food and drink export during the period, with sales of £895.9m.

This was followed by Scottish salmon and chocolate.

Analysis: Emma Simpson, BBC Business Correspondent

2016, as a whole, was a record-breaking year for food and drink exports. That momentum appears to be continuing in 2017.

This is good news for the industry and the government as it seeks new markets for British goods.

Exports to non-EU countries have been growing at a faster rate than those to the EU for the last couple of years.

A growth rate of 40% in South Korea is pretty impressive. But that still only amounts to some £50m worth of business.

Compare that to Ireland, where we generated some £854m worth of exports in the first three months of this year.

Ireland remains our most important trading partner by far when it comes to food and drink. Today's figures are yet more evidence that protecting this relationship post-Brexit will be key.

The rise in the value of UK salmon sales is thanks in part to rising global demand for the fish, that has been hard to meet due to widespread lice infestations that have hampered production.

That has led to higher prices for salmon across the board.

The weakness of sterling has also helped to make Scottish salmon less expensive than salmon from Chile and Norway.

British wine exports saw the greatest growth by volume, climbing 13.8%, while the value of the UK's cheese exports jumped 29.1% to £145.3m, thanks in part to a spike in sales to France.

Rising deficit

However, while the weaker pound benefited UK exporters, the FDF said it had also pushed up costs for British businesses that bring food into the UK from abroad.

As a result, the UK's food and drink trade deficit - the difference between how much the UK imports and exports - actually widened 19% to £6.2bn in the quarter.

Image copyright AFP

UK's top 10 food and drink exports

Whisky £895m

Salmon £186m

Chocolate £155m

Cheese £145m

Beer £139m

Wine £133m

Pork £109m

Gin £108m

Beef £106m

Vegetables £97m

Source H&M Customs and Excise

The UK exports significantly more to the neighbouring European Union than it does further afield. However at 9.4%, growth in exports to non-EU countries outpaced those to the EU, which climbed 7.4%.

Ian Wright, Director General of FDF, said it was "pleasing to see non-EU exports performing beyond expectations".

Food and drink sales to South Korea rose 40%, driven by beer sales, while exports to South Africa grew 31% thanks to animal feed.

However, Elsa Fairbanks, director of the Food & Drink Exporters Association, another trade organisation, said: "Ease of access to EU markets will continue to be vital to our industry in future as many food and drink products are not suited to export to distant markets.

"Although we recognise the need to explore new opportunities, leaving the EU should not mean ignoring those we already have."

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