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Guide to British Food & Farming

Guide to British Food & Farming

Did you know…?

  • The UK food sector is defined as food manufacturing, food wholesaling, food retailing and non-residential catering. The agri-food sections is the food sector plus agriculture and fishing.
  • Food and drink manufacturing is the UK’s largest single manufacturing sector. [Food and Drink Federation Statistics at a Glance]
  • The agri-food sector contributed £112 billion or 6.4% to national Gross Value Added in 2016, and accounted for and 13.1% of national employment in 2017. [DEFRA Food Statistics Pocketbook 2017]
  • The combined market share of food and non-alcoholic drinks of the largest four food and drink retailers was 55% in 2017, down from 61% in 2014.  Tesco commanded the largest market share at 19%, a decrease of 2% on 2014.  The three largest discounters (Aldi, Iceland and Lidl) had a combined market share of 13%, up from 14% in 2012 [Living costs and Food Survey (LCFS) 2017].
  • The food sector in GB employed 3.9 million people in Q1 2017 (3.8 million if agriculture and fishing are included along with self-employed farmers). It covered 11.6% of GB employment in Q1 2017 (13.1% if agriculture and fishing are included along with self-employed farmers). [DEFRA Food Statistics Pocketbook 2017]
  • The industry is a key partner for British farmers: buying two thirds of all the UK's agricultural produce. All this economic activity is carried out by 6,705 food and soft drink enterprises (7,835 including alcohol) – many of which are small companies employing less than 10 people. [Food and Drink Federation Statistics at a Glance]
  • Total consumer expenditure on food, drink and catering has continue to rise, by 0.7% in 2016 to £203 billion.  Expenditure on food (inc. non-alcoholic drinks) increased by 3.0% to £96 billion.  Spend on alcoholic drinks stayed the same and catering decreased 2.4%.
  • When surveyed, 60% of shoppers agree that they try to buy British food whenever they can while 8% disagree.  76% agree that it is important to support British farmers while only 3% disagree.  According to the survey 45% think that British food tastes better while 9% disagree. Source: Lightspeend GMI/Mintel
  • Food Production to supply Ratio provides a broad indicator of the ability of UK agriculture to meet consumer demand.  A high production to supply ratio fails to insulate a country against disruptions to the supply chain.   The UK ratio in 2016 was 60% compared with 61% in 2015.  The EU as a whole has a Food Production to Supply Ratio of around 90% [DEFRA Food Statistics Pocketbook 2017]
  • The value of imports is greater than the value of exports in each of the broad categories of food, feed and drink except Beverages which had a trade surplus of £1.27bn in 2014 largely due to exports of Scotch Whisky. (DEFRA Food Statistic Pocketbook 2017)
  • Based on the farm-gate value of unprocessed food in 2016, the UK supplied just under half (49%) of the food consumed in the UK.  (DEFRA Food Statistic Pocketbook 2017)
  • Averaged over all households 10.7% of spend went on food in 2015, 0.3 percentage points above 2007.
  • 10 million tonnes of food and drink was wasted in the food chain in 2016 in the UK. The highest proportion was waste in households, with 7.3 million tonnes thrown away in 2016. Of that figure, 4.4 million tonnes was avoidable waste, 1.3 million tonnes was possibly avoidable and 1.6 million tonnes was unavoidable. [DEFRA Food Statistics Pocketbook 2016]
  • The cost to the UK of avoidable food waste in 2016 was £12.5 billion, approximately £9 per household per week. [DEFRA Food Statistics Pocktbook 2016)

UK self-sufficiency in food production

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) uses figures collected by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to produce summary statistics on UK imports and exports of food, feed and drink.

Since 1956 they have produced statistics showing the UK’s annual food production to supply ratio (commonly referred to as the “self-sufficiency” ratio). The self-sufficiency ratio is calculated as the farm-gate value (net value of the product when it leaves the farm) of raw food production divided by the value of raw food for human consumption.

The latest provisional stats for 2016 show:

  • UK food production to supply ratio for all food is 60%.
  • UK food production to supply ratio for indigenous food types is 76%.

This compares with 61% and 76% respectively in 2012 and show a further decline compared to 1991, when it peaked at 71% and 87%.

The origins of food consumed in the UK in 2015 (based on the farm gate value of unprocessed food) the UK supplied just under half (49%) of the food consumed in the UK.

[Information and data

Useful farming and food production terms

Organic - The most environmentally friendly food source, buying organic means you are purchasing food produced free of most artificial pesticides, bioengineering, antibiotics and growth hormones. Furthermore, organic livestock have been kept to strict, high welfare standards with almost all of their lives spent in the outdoors.

Free-range - The definition can vary depending on location, but generally, buying free-range means that the animal has lived a happier life with good access to space, drinking troughs and shelter. Although livestock may be brought indoors either at birth or to be fed, free-range means there has been some level of access to pasture for a proportion of life.

Grass-Fed - Applicable to Beef products, the term denotes that the vast majority of the diet consisted of grass. With a lower-stress lifestyle and access to an open-air environment, the meat is often leaner and richer in nutrients.

Outdoor bred - Found on pork products, ‘outdoor bred’ means that pigs are born outside and then are then brought indoors for fattening after a few weeks. They are usually kept in a system with plenty of bedding material such as straw and are free-range.

Outdoor reared - Similar to the above, an ‘outdoor reared’ pig is one that has lived outside for three months before being brought into open-walled sheds before their last three months.