The report quantifies the distribution of economic value, the number of enterprises, and levels of employment across the UK food system. It has ‘mapped’ UK food system activities as
described by their economic value, employee and enterprise numbers. This provides a first assessment of the overall shape of the UK food system and a foundation to build on for further
The UK food system is complex. It includes a wide range of food system ‘activities’ (e.g. producing, processing, retailing, consuming, and disposing) undertaken by a wide range of ‘actors’ operating across multiple levels on spatial, temporal, and jurisdictional scales.
These actors are influenced by many different socioeconomic and biophysical ‘drivers’ which shape the behaviour and future direction of the food system.
Some of the major findings in this report include:
• Concentration in the UK economy has increased with time. There are ten large food retailers. Together, the top five food manufacturers have a £30 billion turnover. There are two main UK big players in contract catering while US multinationals dominate fast food alongside SMEs.
• While the food sector is the biggest employer in the UK, 30% of food manufacturing employees are from the EU (63% of which are in meat processing plants). Other sectors in food employment
have low wages, and there is an increasing issue of a lack of appropriate workplace skills.
• The UK has the third highest volume sales of ultra-processed foods per capita out of 80 high- and middle-income countries, and the most processed diet of countries in Europe. This contributes to the 63% of UK adults being obese or overweight.
• Land use is dominated by animal and cereal production (e.g. 52% of croppable area in the UK is covered with cereals).
• The UK heavily relies on external food sources, particularly the EU. 53% of food consumed in the UK in 2018 was produced domestically, followed by 23% sourced from the EU. There are
financial deficits in all food categories, except for drink (due to whisky exports). The UK is importing food that can be grown here, albeit often dictated by seasonality