More of the nation’s food and drink manufacturers are targeting new international customers following the vote to leave the European Union.
More than two-thirds (69%) of food and drink firms are pursuing new export deals, up from 55% in 2016.
Europe remained the most common target, with two-fifths (43%) reportedly planning to enter new markets inside the EU, while 39% of firms are targeting new markets outside of it.
Firms said their primary export targets were Western Europe, the Far East and Asia (both 43%), Australia and New Zealand (41%), followed by North America and the Middle East (both 36%).
More than a quarter (28%) of food and drink firms said they planned to export for the first time in the next five years.
The figures have been published in a new report by Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking.
In terms of the challenges to exporting, manufacturers cited regulatory issues, political uncertainty at market destination, international regulation and domestic regulation acting as barriers (all cited by 54% of companies).
Going for growth
Food and drink firms hold more ambitious growth plans than they did last year, forecasting growth of 21% of turnover over the next five years, up from 19% this time last year and 16% in 2015.
Investment plans remained fixed however, with almost half (49%) of firms planning to invest the same or more than last year over the next 12-24 months and only 29% saying they would invest less.
Popular routes to growth include developing new products (57%), growing sales in the UK (51%), creating jobs (48%) and entering new EU markets (43%).
Funding growth ambitions
Firms plan to fund growth by creating efficiencies through cost cutting (cited by 53%). The number of firms using cash flow/working capital finance has grown from 31% in 2016 to 48% in 2017.
While producers are also planning on using cash reserves (up from 32% in 2016 to 42% in 2017), almost a third (30%) of companies are considering joint ventures and 31% are considering debt to fund business growth (up from 15% this time last year).
Firms said that rising labour costs were the industry’s biggest challenge over the next five years, mentioned by 48% of firms, up from 25% last year.
Despite that, 44% of all companies still planned to create jobs over the next five years, up from 24% last year. If the job creation plans come to pass, the sector will create more than 95,000 new jobs over the coming five years.
Businesses are investing in skills too with 51% investing in skills development, up from 34% this time last year.
Leaving the EU remains the biggest threat to supply security in the next five years cited by 41% of firms.
Concerns about ingredient security have also increased with 36% saying it is one of the biggest challenges for the industry, up from 26% last year.
But despite challenges, 78% of firms said they would pay a higher price to primary producers in the UK to guarantee supply security and maintain the provenance of their products.