What is the recipe for global success in the food and drink industry in 2023?

Food and drink: explore growth markets, key sector trends and examine what it takes to achieve global success

Globally, the food and drink industry reached a value of nearly 5,943.6 billion USD in 20191. It is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, annually contributing £31.1bn to the economy and employing 450,000 people2. The global popularity of British products is also evident. In 2018, UK companies exported to 20 different countries, worth £23bn3. For food and drink manufacturers, global expansion presents new business opportunities. We look at the growth markets, key sector trends and examine what it takes to achieve global success.

Global opportunities for the food and drink industry

As of 2019, the UK’s top 5 food and drink export markets were Ireland, France, USA, The Netherlands and Germany. Research has indicated that there are further growth opportunities in markets such as the US, Canada and Norway.

The States

With the world’s largest economy, and the third largest population, the USA provides ample opportunities for UK food and drink exporters. More than half the sales value in 2018 came from whisky exports valued at £1.1bn, followed by gin and salmon. 


Over in Canada, exports showed promise with sales increasing by 8% between 2019 and 2020. The draft trade agreement between the UK and Canada offers additional reassurance for UK exporters. Popular products for Canadians include beef, whisky, gin and beer.


Norway is set to be a key market for UK companies, with exports increasing by 40% to Norway during 2020. Norwegians share similar values to UK consumers when it comes to food quality and traceability.

What is the recipe for global success for the food and drink industry?

One of the keys to international success is creating a detailed go-to-market (GTM) strategy for each of your target markets. The next step is implementing the plan. Amongst your GTM strategy, we share some critical success factors you’ll need to consider when expanding internationally.

Customer expectations vary in different countries

Customer expectations vary from country to country because the local culture shapes tastes and preferences. The global brands which have succeeded have deployed ‘glocalisation,’ meaning they have adapted their product and integrated local tastes. For example, the US-based fast food chain, KFC serves porridge and Peking duck burgers in their Shanghai restaurants. It’s critical to carry out research to understand your target market. Never assume that a one-size-fits-all approach will work. 

Avoid miscommunication

Communication is a critical part of a successful product launch. If you are launching your product remotely, don’t let language barriers hold you back. Use local interpreters for translation to help you avoid those mishaps. Even global companies can make mistakes by failing to get proper translations. This was the case for Pepsi in China when they attempted to use their slogan, “Come alive with the Pepsi generation,” baffling locals with a literal translation which read, “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead!” Needless to say, PepsiCo swiftly rectified this campaign.

Trends vary by country

Whilst it’s evident that there are some key trends in the food and drink sector, e.g., ethical purchasing behaviour, be mindful that the rate of adoption varies by country. Both economic development and cultural values shape buyer behaviour. In developed markets, consumers often prefer local, niche and innovative brands. On the contrary, customers in developing markets seek the reassurance of established brands. It’s important to do your research in your target market to understand consumer lifestyle and trends.

Keep costs under control

The operating environment has become increasingly challenging for food and drink manufacturers over the past decade. Competition has become fierce, there is heightened ethical consumer purchasing behaviour, and firms must battle to keep up with myriad new trends and consumer dietary requirements, e.g., lactose-free, gluten-free. All these factors have added to portfolio complexity and higher development costs. Additionally, raw material prices have become increasingly volatile and there is also the uncertainty of currency fluctuations. All of which has an impact on margins, forcing food and beverage companies to rethink the way they select, specify, source and manage their ingredients.

Businesses need to analyse their cost structures, crop yields, farm production costs and logistic costs. By adopting analysis tools, companies can evaluate different potential sourcing scenarios which will enable them to drive down costs. 

Key sector trends

During December 2019, Mintel unveiled three key trends which will shape the global food, drink and food service industries over the next decade4. We look at how these trends will impact food and drink businesses operating in the sector.

  1. Change, Incorporated: Companies who will thrive will be those that continue to improve the health of our planet and the population. This will be an era of ‘conscious consumption.’ Companies will procure locally, establish partnerships with local farmers and support the local community. The impact of sustainable sourcing should be high on the agenda. Short-term supply shouldn’t be at the expense of long-term future supply. In the past few years, sustainable sourcing has risen to the top of global corporation agendas. In 2018, the Nature Conservancy collaborated with Nestle Purina and Cargill. Their goal was to improve the sustainability of the beef supply chain, through reducing the amount of water used to irrigate row crops grown to feed cattle in Nebraska. The scheme is estimated to save 2.4 billion gallons of irrigation water. This volume equates to water consumed by 7,200 households.5   
  2. Smart Diets: Technology will enable consumers to devise individualised plans for their physical and mental health. Consumers will become more savvy through the availability of health testing kits. This will empower them to tailor their diet and health regimes. Businesses will need to offer more personalised product offerings.  
  3. High-tech harvests: Technology will continue to gain consumer trust as it becomes a critical tool for meeting the rising demand for food. Scientists and farmers will collaborate to combat climate change as well as increase yields. The importance of educating consumers on sustainable, alternative lab-grown food will be key to building their trust. Going forward, transparency and the product’s traceability will be key. 
    The Independent dubbed a new category of consumers ‘flexitarians.’ This group chooses certain days or meals to go meat-free. Their dietary decisions are motivated by animal welfare. Consumers want to know that their meat and dairy comes from humane farms. In 2018, 65% of meat buyers cited traceability as important. Businesses need to include their product’s traceability on their packaging and websites.

Invest in technology

The Food and Drink Federation report1 highlighted that UK food and drink manufacturing lags behind other sectors in terms of technology adoption and process engineering. The issue lies with SME businesses who underinvest in innovations and engineering due to lack of time, resource and expertise. As a result, food and drink manufacturers don’t realise the full potential of increasing productivity and margins by investing in new equipment. 

Food and drink companies that enjoy global success are the ones who adapt to trends, invest in technology and continue to innovate. Strong awareness of your social and environmental impact and a commitment to improvement in these areas will be important for a growing number of conscious consumers. 

Ready to take your green tech to new markets?

If you’re ready to grow your business in new markets, you will need a detailed go-to-market strategy. We’ve worked with food and beverage brands of all sizes and stages, formulating their go-to-market strategies to help them distribute their products and grow their businesses both in their domestic and new overseas markets. To start your journey, contact us today.

Insights on international expansion

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Read next on international expansion:


  1. Worldwide Food and Beverages Industry to 2030 – COVID-19 Impact on Drinking Habits in the UK – ResearchAndMarkets.com
  2. Food and drink industry report 2020
  3. UK food & beverage industry: new opportunities and challenges
  4. Mintel announces Global Food and Drink Trends for 2030
  5. The Nature Conservancy teams with Nestlé Purina and Cargill to improve water sustainability in the beef supply chain