Free digital copy
Get Speciality Food magazine delivered to your inbox FREEGet your free copy
Britain’s economy seems to be finally recovering from the pandemic and Brexit chaos as imports, exports and footfall increase across the nation.
Footfall steadily increasing
After a devastating reduction in footfall during the Covid-19 pandemic that turned the British high street into something of a ghost town, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has reported a return to in-person shopping over the past few months.
In fact, according to the BRC’s report, the high street saw a decline of 13.6% in May compared to pre-pandemic levels, 3.6% better than last month’s rate and an improvement on the three-month average decline of 16.2%.
As Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of BRC, explained, “UK footfall made small advances for the third month in a row, as the particularly warm May weather saw more people shop in person.”
Andy Sumpter, retail consultant EMEA for Sensormatic Solutions, the BRC’s partner for the report, added, “Total retail footfall across the UK continued a slow but steady recovery against pre-pandemic levels, edging up to its strongest point since the start of the year when compared to 2019 in May, with the UK continuing to lead the way in high street recovery compared to its G7 country counterparts.”
But Helen warns that improvement to footfall remains fragile as the cost-of-living crisis sets in. “With UK discretionary incomes falling, the government’s financial support to tackle surging energy costs may only provide temporary respite for households”, she told Speciality Food. “As inflation continues to climb and consumer confidence falls, it is by no means certain footfall will continue to improve in the months to come.”
Andy agreed, continuing, “With households already starting to feel the pinch of the rising cost-of-living and growing inflationary pressures, retailers will be hoping that cracks don’t start to appear in the footfall recovery.
The Jubilee effect
The Platinum Jubilee, celebrating 70 years since Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, helped to boost community spirit and in-person shopping over the weekend as consumers headed to their local high streets for decorations, food and drink.
In fact, total UK footfall increased by 6.9% over the Jubilee weekend, compared with the average for May 2022, with high streets seeing the strongest performance at 3.1% growth compared with the average for May 2022, according to data from the BRC.
Speaking about the effect of the Jubilee on retail, Helen explained, “The anticipation for the Jubilee celebrations offered an added boost to footfall, with the public hitting the shops to find the best decorations and festive food and drink for the long weekend. London enjoyed the biggest improvement out of all the major UK cities, seeing an increase in tourism as international Covid restrictions are rolled back and we enter the summer season.”
“Thursday saw the best footfall as the public readied for a weekend of celebrations, from street parties to festivals”, she added.
“It was great to see so many people out celebrating and shopping at their favourite local destinations – a welcome boost for retail businesses reliant on store performance, particularly on the high street. We hope that the momentum can continue despite the ongoing economic turbulence.”
According to Andy, “Retailers experienced a ‘Jubilee Jump’ in footfall, as the celebrations prompted shopper traffic on the high street to rise. Whether it was people stocking up on supplies for the bank holiday weekend, attending street parties or using the extra public holidays to socialise with friends and family, the retail benefited from welcome ambient footfall from the celebrations.”
A boost in trade
Following in the Jubilee’s patriotic footsteps, UK trade also saw a boost in Q1, with exports and imports of food and drink from non-EU countries soaring above pre-pandemic levels for the first time, according to reports from the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).
Two key countries where imports and exports have exploded in growth since Brexit are Canada and India. The report found that Canada is a key source of ingredients used by UK manufacturers and saw imports rise 5% while exports to the country also saw particularly strong growth, up 26% on pre-pandemic levels.
Similarly, exports to India are up more than 25% compared to pre-pandemic levels, and they remain a large import partner – particularly for agricultural goods, accounting for £172.5m.
Dominic Goudie, head of international trade at FDF, told Speciality Food, “Trade plays a key role in boosting the UK economy, with high exports ensuring food and drink companies can thrive and imports offering shoppers in the UK a wide range of quality products at prices they can afford.
“This is particularly important now, at a time of soaring costs to businesses and consumers, that the UK utilises trade as a deflationary weapon.”
Nicola Thomas, director at the Food & Drink Exporters Association, added, “Such strong growth highlights how with widespread economic and political instability around the world, a renewed focus on exporting is a crucial risk-mitigation strategy for UK food and drink companies in 2022.
“Having a sales portfolio spanning multiple global markets not only makes a business potentially less vulnerable to changes in the UK economy, but any losses caused by a crisis or stagnation in one country or region also stand a much better chance of being balanced out by a presence in others.”