Country Profile

United Kingdom Country Profile

Discover more about the United Kingdom market including overviews about the retail, food service, and food processing sectors. Events, resources, and more are linked throughout the profile.

Jump to Section

Market Overview

Over $100k in New Export Sales

$1.1 Billion

total imports of consumer oriented food products from the U.S. in 2020

Market Access Program (MAP) Funding


largest export market for U.S. processed food products

Agricultural Trade Promotion Program (ATP) Fund

$1 Billion

total imports of processed food products from the U.S. in 2020

The United Kingdom (U.K.) suffered one of the worst economic contractions in Western Europe over 2020, triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit uncertainty.  Output is expected to bounce back in the second half of 2021, driven by economic stimulus measures, a rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination program, and the easing of restrictions.  However, the U.K. is set to witness a slow economic recovery, due to a further rise in unemployment, weak private investment, and the adverse effects of Brexit. Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) declined 9.8% in 2020 and is forecast to grow 5.8% in 2021.


  • The U.K.’s economy is projected to start recovering in the second half of 2021 and expand by an average annual real rate of 1.7% over 2021-2024.
  • Inflation is estimated to increase over the medium term and settle around the central bank’s target rate of 2% by 2025.
  • Foreign trade is anticipated to rebound gradually in the medium term, hampered by the impacts of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic on global trade and supply chains.
  • Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows are expected to decline further over the short to medium term, as U.K. economic outlook remains uncertain.
  • Public debt surged to 108% of GDP in 2020 from 85.4% in 2019 and is expected to remain at similar levels over the medium term.


The U.K. signed free trade agreements (FTAs) with Japan and Canada in 2020. Moreover, on 30th December 2020, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union (EU) and the U.K. were signed to promote trade ties between the country and the economic bloc amid the U.K.’s departure from the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union.  The agreement between the U.K. and its most important economic partner sets out the new trading rules on goods and services that apply as of 1st January 2021.  The new trade deal brought some relief to U.K. businesses that rely on trade with the EU, as there will be no tariffs or quotas on the movement of goods.  Nevertheless, businesses are likely to face post-Brexit trade disruptions, due to new trading rules and customs procedures, putting downward pressure on trade growth in the U.K.


USDA’s Office of Agricultural Affairs, (OAA), in London, hereinafter referred to as “Post” advises the U.K., a leading trading power and financial center, is the third largest economy in Europe.  While U.K. agriculture produces about 60% of the country’s food needs with less than 2% of the labor force, the U.K. is heavily reliant on imports to meet the varied demands of the U.K. consumer who expects year-round availability of all food products.  The U.K. is very receptive to goods and services from the U.S.  With its US$2.9 trillion GDP on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis in 2020, the U.K. is the U.S. largest European market and fifth largest in the world for all goods.  


In 2020, U.S. exports of consumer oriented food products ranked 11th and were just over US$1.1 billion, remaining steady to the value of 2019.  The U.K. is a top market for the export of U.S. processed foods, ranking 7th in 2020 at US$1 billion, down 1% from 2019. That shows the U.K.’s imports of processed foods from the U.S. in 2020 were 90% of their agricultural total.  Top processed food exports to the U.K. in 2020 included:


  • Alcoholic Beverages
  • Food Preparations & Ingredients
  • Processed Vegetables & Pulses
  • Syrups & Sweeteners
  • Dog & Cat Food
  • Spices  
  • Prepared/Preserved Meat
  • Soups  


Post reports that the U.K. presents market opportunities for many U.S. consumer-oriented products, including specialty food products, “healthy” food items, wine, sauces, fruit, nuts and juices.  Health and convenience foods are the main driving forces in the U.K. value-added food and beverage market.  Consumers in this relatively wealthy country are looking for variety in high quality food products especially those perceived to have health and fitness benefits.  

Advantages and Challenges for U.S. Food Exporters in the United Kingdom

The U.S. has some distinct advantages and challenges in the U.K. food market.


  • Market dominated by a few retailers with strong market penetration.  Sophisticated replenishment systems mean U.S. products can be widely distributed.
  • There are many specialty importers capable and interested in importing from the United States.
  • Some U.S. products are priced competitively.
  • The country is English speaking and is therefore an easier gateway into the rest of Europe for U.S. exporters.
  • The United States is a popular destination for U.K. tourists and familiarity with U.S. products is widespread.
  • The U.S. has an opportunity to promote products that focus on the environment, sustainability, and health.


  • Supermarket chains demand significant volume, and their concentration can make market access difficult initially.  Trial listings must give results in a short time or product will be de-listed.
  • The U.K. has well-established brands for mainstream products.  Brand-building and marketing costs are substantial.
  • Trade barriers imposed on U.S. products e.g., meat and poultry.
  • EU competitors do not pay import duty on goods to the U.K.  The United States pays 0-25% import duty, depending on the product.
  • Popularity of specialty products from many EU countries is high, e.g., French cheeses, Spanish citrus, Italian pasta, South African produce.
  • Anti U.S. lobby on food products intensified at the start of U.S. – U.K. trade agreement talks.

“All of Food Export’s programs were a tremendous help getting us export ready, understanding the challenges that come with international business, and learning how to navigate them.”

Katz Gluten Free

Food Export-Northeast Participant since 2018     

Interested in importing from U.S. suppliers?
Contact us to learn more.

Retail Sector

Over $100k in New Export Sales

$88.4 Billion

estimated retail sales in packaged food market in 2020

Over 20% Increase in Sales


growth rate in retail sales since 2016

Agricultural Trade Promotion Program (ATP) Fund

$102.9 Billion

estimated total of the packaged food market by 2025

According to Euromonitor, retail sales in the packaged food market in the U.K. were estimated to reach US$88.4 billion in 2020.  That represents a growth rate of 14.2% or nearly US$10.9 billion since 2016.  The U.K. is now the 6th largest package food market in the world and the 3rd largest in all of Europe.  By the year 2025, the retail sales in the packaged food market in the U.K. is expected to reach US$102.9 billion, a growth rate of nearly 14.2% or US$12.8 billion.  High growth categories in the forecast include:


  • Ice Cream & Frozen Desserts
  • Rice, Pasta And Noodles
  • Sweet Biscuits, Snack Bars & Fruit Snacks
  • Savory Smacks
  • Cheese
  • Sauces, Dressings & Condiments
  • Processed Meat & Seafood  


Post reports that The U.K. retail sector is one of the most sophisticated in the world.  The U.K. was one of the first to pioneer ‘Click and Collect’ and online grocery shopping. COVID-19 has seen the way in which consumers shopping patterns changed in the past year with online shopping far more popular.  Consumers are more health conscious and are choosing to shop more locally.


The four leading supermarket chains compete fiercely for customers with the discount chains increasing their market share yearly.  Within the U.K. retail sector, grocery retailing continues to record the biggest growth.  Convenience stores, discounters and online grocery are formats seeing the strongest expansion, with chains opening smaller stores in city centers while limiting large-format outlets in out-of-town locations. Tariffs and ‘Buy British’ campaigns are the biggest challenge for U.S. companies.  Products with the biggest opportunities are those that have a healthy, sustainable, and environmentally friendly message.


The U.K. retail grocery market sector was valued at US$297 billion (£205 billion) in August 2020, an increase of 6.7% on 2019.  The Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) estimates that the U.K. grocery market will be worth US$306 billion (£211 billion) in 2022.  Online grocery shopping was the fastest growing channel in 2020 and is expected to increase 59% between 2019 and 2022.  While it is expected to grow, it will be at a slower pace compared to the beginning of the pandemic.  Discounters will be the fastest growing channel in 2021 and 2022, as both consumers recognize quality and value.  By 2022, discounters will be worth US$44.8 billion (£30.9 billion), and convenience store sales are expected to increase moderately in the next two years from US$59.4 billion (£41.0 billion) in 2019 to US$67.2 billion (£46.4 billion) by 2022.  Click and Collect sales will continue to increase.  Other stores such as B&M, Home Bargains, Iceland, and Poundland continue to increase their grocery sections.


Four supermarket chains dominate U.K. food retailing, accounting for 67% of the market. Tesco is the market leader, with 27% market share, followed by Sainsbury’s with 15.3% Asda with 14.8% and Morrison’s with 10%.  Other U.K. supermarket chains include Aldi, The Co-op, Waitrose, Lidl, and Iceland.


The U.K. has one of the most advanced private label markets in the world and is seen as a flagship market for private-label development.  The U.K.'s major supermarket chains dominate the private-label market with 42% of products in their stores being private label.  Originally, private label goods were a copy of a branded product but today they are often innovative and marketed as a premium or high-quality brand.  They give U.K. retailers the opportunity to diversify their product ranges and develop new revenue streams.  According to Kantar, the average U.K. household buys a private label product 187 times per year, meaning that most households buy between 40% and 70%, private label items, from all of the groceries they buy.


Retail food prices in the U.K. are much cheaper than those found in other parts of Europe and other western countries.  Apart from supplying quality products, consumers consider the price of the product as one of the major factors to consider when shopping either online or in the grocery store.  This makes the U.K. grocery sector a highly competitive market.  The retailers can achieve low pricing due to fierce competition and the vast amount of product bought.  The rise of the discounters has further increased buying power.  With added import duty this tends to make U.S. products more expensive and less competitive than other products found on U.K. supermarket shelves.


Best Product Prospects:


Post reports that products in the market that have good sales potential: Processed Products: health food, mainstream grocery, snack foods, Dried and Processed Fruit: cranberries, dried cherries, prunes, raisins, wild berries, Nuts: almonds, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, Fish and Seafood: cod, pollack, salmon, and other fish products, Fresh Fruit and Vegetables: apples, grapefruit, sweet potatoes, table grapes, Meat: hormone-free beef and pork products, Drinks: craft beer, spirits, wine, and low alcohol products.

Food Service Sector

Over $100k in New Export Sales

$71 Billion

estimated worth of foodservice sector (food and beverage sales to consumers) in 2019

Branded Program Success


largest consumer market in the U.K. following retail, cars, clothing and footwear

Focused Trade Mission Success

18 - 29

year old consumers tend to eat out the most often

Foodservice institutions are: restaurants, quick-service restaurants, hotels and resorts, pubs, leisure parks, specialist coffee shops, staff catering, education, health care, custodial (police, fire stations, prisons etc.), welfare (meals on wheels, day care centers etc.).   The U.K. foodservice market is currently more challenging than ever.  For the last couple of years, Brexit had made the foodservice industry volatile; however, this report was originally published before one could have predicted the effect that Covid-19 would have on the economy.


During the last year Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the U.K. economy and on the hospitality industry.  On March 20, 2020, the U.K. government required all pubs and restaurants to close their doors as the U.K. went into lockdown.  Sales plummeted overnight, causing total decimation of the on-trade (wholesale) sales in order to survive. The focus for many companies was to find other buyers online.  Restaurants and pubs were then allowed to open for takeaway or delivery service only, with establishments having to put in place social distancing measures.  While some outlets did better than others, business was very quiet for the majority with most of the population living and working from home.


In 2019, the U.K. foodservice sector (food and beverage sales to consumers) was estimated to be worth US$71 billion.  The foodservice sector is the U.K.’s fourth largest consumer market following retail, cars, clothing and footwear and can provide many opportunities for prepared U.S. exporters.  Although there are no official figures for 2020, between March and November sales dropped dramatically.  The U.K. food service sector is now in the middle of a crisis having either been closed or operating under severe restrictions for most of the year.  The average U.K. consumers ate out twice per week in 2019.  People aged 18-29 tend to eat out the most. These figures include restaurants and pubs, but exclude hotels, health care and education.


Best Product Prospects:


Post reports that the best product prospects for U.S. exporters of foodservice products include fish and seafood, chocolate confectionery, vegetables & fruit prepared in vinegar, preserved fruit & nuts, fruit & vegetable juice, condiments, seasonings, soft drinks and wine & beer.

Food-Processing Sector

Over $100k in New Export Sales

$100.3 Billion

estimated total sales of manufactured food products in the U.K. in 2019

Food Export Seminar


people are employed in jobs associated with food and drink manufacture and sales

Over $100k in New Export Sales


food manufacturing enterprise in London alone

The food and drink sector is the largest single employer in the U.K. manufacturing sector.  Food and drink sector has an annual turnover in 2019 of US$145 billion.  Around 430,000 people across the U.K. are employed in jobs associated with food and drink manufacture and sales.  In London, there are 1,685 food manufacturing enterprises, the largest in the U.K.  This is followed by the South East with 1,280 enterprises.  The North East is the region with the fewest enterprises.


Post reports that Food and drink production is the U.K.’s largest manufacturing sector. Despite COVID-19 and Brexit, the U.K. consumer still demands products containing ingredients that cannot be sourced entirely in the U.K.  The U.K. relies on imports in order to fulfill the demand for such ingredients.  Health and wellbeing are key trends driving the market as the demand for plant-based and ‘clean eating’ products increase.


Many opportunities therefore exist in all sectors of the ingredients market. U.K. industry standards tend to focus on strict animal welfare, high technical specifications, traceability, and very competitive pricing.  Data for 2019 (latest available) shows the manufacture of food products in the U.K. decreased by US$1.2 billion from the previous year to US$100.3 billion.  The decline was attributed to falling sales of cakes and pastries as well as prepared meals, as a result of consumers being more health conscious.  Post anticipates sales of these products to recover and grow in 2021 and onwards.


The U.K. is an important market for global food and beverage companies.  Food retailing and foodservice are sophisticated and dynamic.  Continual innovation and re-formulation drive new product development and sourcing of new, smarter, safer, and healthier ingredients. As in the U.S., high standards require greater technical specifications, traceability, and compliance with private certification schemes.  Chilled convenience food is more sought after than in the United States, driving demand for exotic ingredient including jackfruit, durian, rambutan, and goji berries.


The U.K. is a key market for U.S. intermediate agricultural products (i.e., those that are lightly processed) such as cereals, dried fruit, nuts, beans, other legumes, and seeds. Some of these products are consumed directly as snacks, but the majority is utilized as ingredients in the manufacture of U.K. finished goods


The U.K. completed its departure from the European Union (EU) on January 31, 2020. The EU now treats the U.K. as a third country.  For U.S. exporters, it is of paramount importance that they understand their importer’s needs.  If an importer is re-exporting a product, or reprocessing it, then consideration should be given to ensure these goods reach the final destination with as minimal additional costs as necessary.  Third country products transit through the U.K. and then onto other EU countries could face double duties if they are not substantially altered.  With the U.K. having secured a trade deal with the EU, any rises in food costs are likely to be very modest.  The British pound is starting to increase again, having seen significant devaluation against both the Euro and U.S. dollar following the Brexit vote.


Given its geographic location and small size, the U.K. must source a considerable amount of raw material from abroad.  National pride in the wake of Brexit and a history of food-scares means U.K. consumers trust their own produce, with retailers/foodservice operators ensuring sourcing and marketing plays to this bias.  However, the U.K., is only around 60% self-sufficient in food.  Incorporating U.S. ingredients into a British made product is routine, but the labeling or marketing will generally not acknowledge the U.S. element, unless it is misleading or illegal to leave out such information.


Best Product Prospects:


Post reports that products present in the market, which have good sales potential wheat products, rice dry beans, legumes dried fruit & nuts specialty seeds e.g., flaxseed, linseed, poppy natural colors, flavors, additives for processed food and drink manufacturing gums and resins fresh fruit and vegetables not grown in U.K., organic, or available outside of U.K. season preserved fruit and vegetables, juices and fruit concentrates, essential oils soybeans, distillers dried grains and animal feed.