Downton Abbey boosts UK tea in China

By Angus McNeice in London | | Updated: 2017-03-01 00:38

A growing taste for meat, dairy, beer and "afternoon tea" products among Chinese consumers contributed to a 51 percent increase in British food and drink exports to China in 2016, making it the UK's fastest growing market.

The UK exported 439.5 million pounds ($546.6 million) of food and drink goods to China last year, the fastest growth in exports to China in a decade, according to the UK's Food and Drink Federation. Total UK exports of food and drink grew by 10.5 percent to reach a record 20 billion pounds.

Ian Wright, director-general of the FDF said there was a much greater potential in China for British food and drink exports.

He said: "Our target is to grow branded exports by a third by 2020 to more than 6 billion pounds."

The UK government will soon embark on a five-year campaign to increase demand for UK products in China, having identified the country as one of nine priority markets in the Government-Industry International Action Plan for Food and Drink 2016-2020.

The Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs says the growth in demand for quality products in China is due to changing tastes as the country becomes increasingly affluent. Meat, dairy and alcohol account for roughly half of the UK's food and drink exports to China. The FDF attributed some of the growth in 2016 to favorable exchange rates following the EU referendum.

In descending order, the top five export products from the UK to China last year were milk and cream powders, salmon, pork, whisky and beer. Beer saw a 439 percent increase in exports following President Xi Jinping's visit to a Buckinghamshire pub with former UK prime minister David Cameron in 2015.

The FDF also noted the growing interest in China for British "afternoon tea" products such as scones, jam, tea and cakes, linking the trend to the popularity of television programs such as Downton Abbey and the Great British Bake Off. Last year, exports of tea to China were up by 63 percent, milk powder by 134 percent, and cakes by 26 percent.

While the weak pound helped boost UK exports, it also made imports more expensive and the UK's food and drink trade deficit with the rest of the world grew by 5.7 percent to 22.4 billion pounds.

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