Despite Brexit, UK Consumers Demand More Produce From Abroad

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Even as the UK seeks to cut ties with the European Union, the island nation’s people are increasingly thinking global with what they eat.

Nearly half of the vegetables consumed in the UK came from abroad in 2018, the latest year for which data is available. That compares with imports amounting to just 29% of total vegetable supplies in 2000, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

People also are paying much more for foreign-raised vegetables. While the volume of vegetable imports rose 80%, to 2.28 million tonnes, from 2000 to 2018, the value of those goods jumped 131% to 2.47 billion pounds sterling in the latest year.

A growing share of the UK’s vegetable supplies comes from abroad. Vegetable imports are up 80% by volume (blue bars) since 2000, and rose 131% by value (red bars).

Tomatoes and sweet peppers are among the biggest products by value brought from abroad. Britons spent 524.6 million pounds on imported tomatoes in 2018, more than twice what they spent in 2000. For imported sweet peppers, expenditures nearly tripled in that period to 267.9 million pounds.

Homegrown tomatoes in the UK totaled just 669,000 tonnes in 2018, compared with imports of 4.11 million tonnes. Some 86% of imported tomatoes come from the EU, mainly from Spain and the Netherlands, according to the UN’s Comtrade database.

Conversely, the UK is actually supplying more of its fruit needs with homegrown product—16.7% of the total—than it did in 2000, when domestic supply was 10.4%. Orchard fruit, mainly apples and pears, saw some of the biggest growth in the UK during that period, with homegrown varieties expanding by 124% to 5.45 million tonnes.

Other fruit in the UK came from increased imports. Grape volumes from abroad rose 70% to 273,000 tonnes. On a value basis, grape imports tripled to 518 million pounds.

Spain, the Netherlands, and Argentina provide the bulk of UK vegetable imports. This chart identifies the major sources of UK imports by country and by continent (marked by various colors).

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