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How Self-Sufficient is the UK for Fruit and Vegetables?

United Kingdom
Regulation / Agreement
Oct 13, 2021
Written by
Juan Carlos
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In 2020, the UK’s vegetable self-sufficiency rate increased by 3% to 56%, as there were fewer vegetable imports while domestic production remained the same, ending a long-term downward trend regarding vegetable self-sufficiency. However, when it comes to fresh fruit, self-sufficiency in the UK remains very low, as just 16% of the domestic consumption comes from home soil production. Furthermore, with the Brexit implementation in January 2021, the UK’s fresh fruit and vegetable import industry are going through important changes in market dynamics. According to UK Customs, imports from EU countries are taking a downward trend in this year’s first half.

The UK’s vegetable and fresh fruit import industry has become dependent on nearly half of its fresh vegetables and the majority of its fruit on imports from EU countries for both cases. During summer, the UK can produce plenty of its own consumption of vegetables and fruits such as lettuces, carrots, and soft berries such as raspberries and strawberries. However, when the weather turns colder, the UK is forced to rely much more on imports mainly from the EU.

Greenhouse Vegetable Production Remains Low

The UK imported 2.18 MT of fresh vegetables in 2020, while its production has remained relatively stable in recent years, at 2.6 MT. This means that the UK imported around 56% of its vegetable consumption which by last year recorded 4.67 MT. British vegetable farming consists mainly of large open-field vegetables where carrots, onions, and cabbages are abundant. However, the country’s output remains lower for greenhouse vegetable products, generating a lower self-sufficiency rate, especially on those most consumed vegetables like tomatoes and lettuces.

Carrots are the most abundant in the UK’s farming productive industry, with 700,000 tons produced in 2020 and just over 45,000 tons imported, the carrot self-sufficiency rate of the UK is at 97%, which is the product they are most self-sufficient with. In the case of cabbages, the UK’s production stands at 400,000 tons and imports for this product don’t exceed 50,000 tons, for which its self-sufficiency rate remains high at 90%. Other open-field vegetables like onions and cauliflowers have a stable production season that allows imports to come during the off-season to supply the market. These products have an average of 50 to 60% of self-sufficiency rates.

A very different situation occurs with greenhouse vegetable products that are highly consumed in the UK and where a strong import dependency has been created. For example, in the case of tomatoes, the UK’s 2020 production accounted for a modest 65,000 tons where imports reached 376,000 tons of fresh tomatoes generating a 15% self-sufficiency rate, making tomatoes the product where the UK is most dependent on foreign production. Similar for different types of lettuces, for which the UK imported 239,000 tons mainly from Spain and Italy and for which the self-sufficiency rate stands at 33%.

Britse Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

Lower Production Trend on Fruits Sets a Low Self-Sufficiency Rate

When it comes to fresh fruit production, just 16% of domestic consumption comes from products grown on British soil. This makes the UK have a stronger dependency on fruits than the one it has on vegetables. For example, only in strawberries, the UK has a self-sufficiency rate above 50% within the fresh fruits with a yearly production at 125,000 tons and 48,000 tons imported. The UK’s self-sufficiency rate for strawberries is at 70%.

In 2020, the UK will produce fewer fruits than in 2020. The overall UK production of fresh fruits was at 650,000 tons when in 2019, an average of 750,000 tons of harvest fruit was recorded, which has created a more extensive dependency on fruit products. Apples, which is UK’s primary production fruit with higher domestic consumption, had a lower production last year with 200,000 tonnes and was forced to import 350,000 tons to supply the market, recording a low self-sufficiency rate of 39%.

The rate for pears was even lower, as the UK produced a very modest 25,000 tons and needed to import 110,00 tons. The self-sufficiency rate for those was 19%. Other fruit products that hold an even lower rate as the UK doesn’t produce them are bananas, melons, mandarins, grapes, and oranges. The UK imported 2020 more than 1 MT of bananas, which makes them the top imported fruit, followed by apples with 350,000 tons, melons with 320,000 tons, and 310,000 tons of mandarins.

Market Situation in the UK for Fruit and Vegetable Suppliers

With around 3.5 MT of fruit and 2.2 MT of vegetables imported in 2020, the UK is the third-largest importer of vegetables and the sixth-largest importer of fruit. This makes the UK a significant buyer for fresh produce exporting countries that are able to place fresh products into the UK's valuable import market. For many years, most of these suppliers have been EU countries like Spain, Netherland, Belgium, and Italy, where fresh products enjoyed a zero-tariff scheme and relaxed customs access.

However, with the full Brexit implementation in place, the UK has signed trade agreements with other importing fresh produce supplying countries to diversify its imports from different origins. According to UK Customs, in the first half of 2021, imports from EU countries have fallen 12% short of those in the first half of 2020. Imports from the Netherlands and Belgium are 20% down in the first semester. It seems that for non-European suppliers, it's an excellent opportunity to gain significant market share in the UK’s import market, specifically with products where the self-sufficiency rates remained low.


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