Revenue For UK Food and Drink Producers in Decline For First Time in 15 Years

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Revenue For UK Food and Drink Producers in Decline For First Time in 15 Years

Revenue For UK Food and Drink Producers in Decline For First Time in 15 Years
September 28
09:28 2016

Revenue growth for the top 150 food and drink producers in the UK slowed significantly in 2015, hindered by deflation and investor uncertainty, and turned negative for the first time since 2004, posting a historic 0.1% decline. This is according to OC&C Strategy Consultant’s 28th annual Food and Drink 150 report, produced in collaboration with The Grocer. It is the only sector-wide analysis of the financial statements of the top food and soft drink firms in the UK, and ranks companies by revenue.

Profit margins for the Top 150 also stagnated at 5.3% in 2015, sitting far below their 20-year average levels of 6.4%. As a result, return on capital employed has been pushed to 12.4%, its lowest level in 30 years.

Slowdown in M&A Activity

The damaging impact of deflation has been compounded by a distinct slowdown in merger and acquisition activity in a typically deal-rich industry. M&A totals reached £3.9 billion in 2015 but investor confidence dropped significantly in light of Brexit uncertainty, and big businesses in the UK failed to make a compelling case for industry consolidation. As a result, it has chalked up a paltry £0.8 billion across just five deals in 2016 (year-to-date) – less than a quarter of levels seen in the previous year.

OC&CLogoWhile big producers struggle to grapple with the changing face of the industry, small brands and large own-label producers are the only groups to post continued revenue growth in 2015, reporting 1.2% and 0.4% revenue growth year on year respectively. The growth of small brands is possible because of the unique environment created in the UK for enterprises to flourish. London is a well-known incubator for start-ups, and British consumers are particularly receptive to exciting and engaging new brands, which marries well with the disruptive, digital tactics they are employing. This, along with sterling’s Brexit-driven devaluation, makes them even more attractive to foreign investors.

Will Hayllar, Partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants and author of the report, comments: “For years, the top 150 food and grocery companies in the UK have enjoyed revenue growth that has far out-paced overall grocery spending, driven by M&A activity and a focus on leading brands. That has now been turned on its head, and we’re facing the dawn of a new era for the industry. Small branded businesses are coming to the fore, boosted by the appetite for niche food and drink brands in the UK, and are presenting the biggest source of revenue growth for the sector. A devalued currency makes these small and innovative new businesses an attractive prospect for overseas investors, whilst big producers must redouble their efforts to restore growth or acquire it.”


Will Hayllar, Partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants.

Will Hayllar, Partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants.

While it certainly presents new challenges, Brexit could have the potential to be the saving grace for big producers. The currency devaluation of sterling alone is likely to have a significant impact on the current landscape by reversing deflation, which has been a major feature of the food industry for years. OC&C Strategy Consultants has identified four key implications of this for UK suppliers. First, they will need to rapidly change from having deflationary conversations with retailers to talking seriously about cost pass-through, particularly as inflation is now expected across the sector. Second, exporters must recognise they will be at an increased advantage and move swiftly to capitalise on this, particularly in places where UK-origin brand values are strong. Third, across the board, reduced-cost UK produce means there will be a real opportunity to dislodge overseas suppliers, particularly in categories that receive a high volume of produce from overseas such as the pork and chicken industries. Finally, producers must invest to drive productivity in the face of increasing labour costs fuelled by the National Living Wage and a likely reduction in the supply of migrant labour.

Currency devaluation is also likely to boost M&A activity out of its recent lull. Cheaper UK assets, combined with continued innovation from UK producers and a predicted slow process for Brexit negotiations, means that M&A activity cannot be on hold indefinitely and is likely to rebound.

Will Hayllar continues: “Brexit uncertainty can be turned into opportunity, but producers must be proactive if they are to do this. With sterling at historic lows, there’s no longer such a price premium for buying British and this opens up a market that had previously been facing stiff competition from cheaper overseas suppliers. Along with aggressively pursuing these growth opportunities, the time has come to kick-start M&A strategies to capture growth. Recent sector performance cannot continue, and the time has come for food and drink companies to reverse their recent fortunes.”

OC&C and The Grocer’s Food & Drink Top 10 2016

  1. Associated British Foods (up one from number 2)
  2. Boparan Holdings (down one from number 1)
  3. Arla Foods (holds position at number 3)
  4. Unilever UK (holds position at number 4)
  5. Mondelez UK (holds position at number 5)
  6. Coca-Cola Enterprises (holds position at number 6)
  7. Nestle UK (holds position at number 7)
  8. Bakkavor (holds position at number 8)
  9. Princes (holds position at number 9)
  10. Moy Park (up five from number 15)

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