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Despite the strong growth in post-Covid domestic sales, the Top 150’s international sales outstripped UK growth.

The share of international sales in overall Top 150 revenues growth rose one percentage point from 20.5% of total sales to 21.5% last year (excluding exceptional items), with international sales up 9.4% and UK-only sales by just 3%.

Underneath the headline growth, the picture is more nuanced. Importantly, the rebound in international sales follows a sharp drop driven by Covid and the imposition of new trading barriers at the start of 2021 – so while non-UK sales are up, they remain well below 2018 levels.

On a company level, the data is more mixed too – with 49 of those suppliers selling internationally seeing revenue growth but 42 seeing declines.

Notably, overall growth is driven heavily by larger players that have established operations in other geographies. Meat supplier Hilton Food Group and premium drinks mixer supplier Fever-Tree already derive most of their revenues from outside the UK and continued to grow non-EU strongly last year – up 34.8% driven by Australasia and 29.9% by the US respectively – as their global sales continued to grow.

Larger players have proven more able to cope with increased non-trade barriers to international sales, with bigger businesses often able to have business infrastructure in key international markets to negate challenges around physical export.

OC&C’s Nilpesh Patel argues: “Growth has been heavily driven by businesses like Fever-Tree which have established operations in other geographies and have grown and run those businesses somewhat independently rather than exporting goods from the UK.”

However, he does note that the growth of brands like Fever-Tree show opportunity remains for those able to navigate any barriers to trade. “Where there is value in the product and where it is valued by international consumers, there will always be an opportunity to internationalise and leverage the expertise of British food and drink in those markets,” he says.

Additionally, imports have also fallen significantly since Covid and Brexit and show little sign of an immediate bounceback, creating potential opportunities for domestic players in categories previously dominated by imports.

The Big Squeeze: OC&C 150 supplier rankings 2022