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What Are The UK’s Most Popular Exports?

The UK is the world’s tenth largest exporter, just behind Italy (ninth), France (eighth) and the Netherlands (fifth), but a long way behind Germany (third), the USA (second) and China (first).

According to the latest government figures, UK exports totalled £637bn in the year to August 2018 – a £33bn or 5.5% year-on-year increase. Service sector exports grew by 5.3% to “a record high of £289bn”, while goods exports “also increased by 5.6% to £348bn”. According to the government – there’s never been a better time to sell overseas.


Where should you sell?

The EU is the UK’s largest trading partner. In 2017, the UK sold goods and services to the EU worth some £274bn (44% of all UK exports, although it was 54% in 2000). 

The UK’s next biggest trade partner is the USA, with 13% (value £45bn) of our exports ending up “over the pond” in 2017. Breaking down the EU, about a tenth of UK exports end up in Germany (£36bn), 7.4% in France (£25bn), 6.2% in the Netherlands (£21bn), 5.7% in Ireland (£19.4bn), with 4.8% ending up in China (£16.3bn). Other top ten markets include Switzerland (4.5% – £15.4bn), Belgium (4% – £13.6bn), Italy and Spain (both 3% – £10.1bn).

According to the government, in 2016, 206, 800 “GB businesses” were exporting (just 8.8% of UK firms); 193,300 (93%) of exporters were in England and London was the UK region with the highest number of exporters (50,300).

Research by Lloyds Bank also highlighted the opportunity in large export growth markets for the UK in 2017; those markets which are currently in the top twenty by export size and are growing the fastest. Leading the pack was India with 34.4% growth in UK exports, followed by Hong Kong (16.2%), Poland (13.1%), Turkey (13.1%), Japan (12.3%) and South Korea (10.5%).


What should you sell?

In 2017, goods accounted for 55% of total UK exports, with services (obviously) making up the rest (45%). The UK’s top exports are mechanical machinery (14%); cars (10%); electrical machinery (8%); medicinal/pharmaceutical products (8%); crude oil (6%); aircraft (5%); other miscellaneous manufactures (5%); scientific/photographic (4%); and refined oil (3%). Although large companies dominate, many smaller firms within supply chains benefit from export sales. 

British food and drink products continue to prove popular. Successful exports, of course, include Scotch whiskey, with exports growing in both volume (1.6%) and value (8.9%) in 2017 to reach £4.36bn (1.23bn bottles globally). Chocolate continues to be another UK export success story, with exports worth £694m in 2017 – a significant increase since 2010 (£370m), driven by a rise in artisan chocolate exports from smaller independent manufacturers. Scottish salmon exports also reached record levels in 2017 (£600m – up 35% compared to 2016). 

UK cheese exports totalled £615m last year – a 23 per cent increase from 2016 (source: HMRC), and cheddar dominated, although British mozzarella showed strong growth. Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Poland remain key export markets for UK cheesemakers.

Surprising export successes

Britain is the world’s thirteenth largest exporter of sea salt. And who knew that British crisps were popular in France or that UK gins were globally popular, generating export sales worth half a billion pounds a year? More surprising, UK export goods include antiques (£638m), second-hand clothing (£393m) and sheep or goat meat (£384m).

As unusual UK export success stories, it’s right up there. Wicked Vision is the maker of the Booma Range of specially designed tri-blade boomerangs. Its MD is David Strang, originally from Perth, Western Australia, who arrived in London years ago as an 18-year-old backpacker, before starting his successful southwest London-based games company.

It’s become “the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of indoor and outdoor returning boomerangs”, selling more than five million boomerangs a year to more than 45 countries. A key export market is – Australia.

Strang comments: “We’re absolutely behind the Indigenous Australian people and greatly respectful of the boomerang’s origins. In fact, we’ve received great support from Australian customers and the country is now one of our biggest export markets. Our number one aim is to bring boomerangs to the masses.”


For further guidance, read our guide on exporting goods and post-Brexit business opportunities.

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Lloyds Bank supported 100,000 businesses last year to start up and helps businesses of all sizes, from small businesses to large corporates and financial institutions to fulfil their growth ambitions. For help on exploring oversea trade opportunities, visit Lloyds Bank’s International Trade Portal at

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