For those many highly entrepreneurial spirits seeking to enter the food and drink sector, or who want to grow their businesses successfully, the UK food retail market can seem a daunting one.

But it’s not the only option. A study conducted in 2011 indicated that only 10% of the UK’s small and medium-sized food and drink companies export abroad. The UK exports less as a percentage of turnover than some of our closest competitors, including France and Ireland, and has done for many years. We compare poorly with many other industrial sectors and are missing out on significant opportunities for growth.

Food and non-alcoholic drink exports grew by 4.8% in the first six months of 2014, according to our figures released this week.

This actually understates the growth seen in individual markets such as France (+9%), the US (+12%) and Poland (+26%), with exports to China still growing by 7%. Some individual products to certain markets are experiencing double-digit growth.

These statistics are not a blip. Over the last few years our exports have grown steadily. And since the London Olympics there has been increased interest in British food and drink, which is seen as safe, good quality and innovative across the globe.

“UKTI is flooded with opportunities from a wide range of markets”

Our colleagues at UK Trade & Investment are flooded with new business opportunities from a wide range of markets, with food and drink products now ranked third in terms of the number of new international business opportunities received per month.

We have to seize these opportunities.

The Food and Drink Federation has been working closely with the government and others to communicate the benefits of export through Open to Export - a community-based website dedicated to help SMEs boost their exports business.

Open to Export receives 30,000 hits per month. It enables businesses to access free information to help them export, as well as providing a forum where they can ask experts any questions they have relating to exporting.

Last year, FDF, UKTI, Defra, the Food & Drink Exporters Association and The Grocer came together to create a section of the website dedicated to the food & drink industry. We are the first and only manufacturing sector to have a landing page on the site.

Throughout September and October we are running a series of new webinars to help food and drink businesses start exporting or export more.

Webinars will focus on popular product categories, as well as provide advice on food labelling regulations and other issues.

The site will also feature new statistics, case studies and our popular 10 Steps to Export Success guide, which will be updated with the latest resources for food and drink businesses. Can you afford not to visit to find out how to connect with over seven billion consumers outside the UK?

Melanie Leech is director general of the Food and Drink Federation.

She will be speaking at The Grocer’s How to Export a Brand conference on 3 October in London.

For more information on the conference and its speakers, visit