Exports from the UK rose 11.4 % in 2011, fuelled largely by increasingly westernised diets in the Far East countries, according to the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).
China entered the top 20 export destinations for the first time with a 55% increase on 2010. South Korea increased by 37%, with Hong Kong also up 41%.
The FDF confirmed that traditional EU markets also “remained loyal”. Ireland remained the top export destination, closely followed by France and the Netherlands. Dutch interest in UK products increased, with exports to Belgium and Germany also increasing by 30% and 15% respectively.
Melanie Leech, FDF director general, said: “While the domestic market is growing at a steady rate we are seeing very strong performance from food and drink exports.
“There remains considerable interest in British heritage brands and around our health and wellbeing innovation. Companies understand the importance of developing new markets, competing successfully in many cases against other experienced exporters in France, Germany and Spain.”
In addition, established non EU markets performed strongly, with exports to the US rising by 25% last year. The non EU share of the £12bn total equated to 23%, compared with 77% for the EU.
The highest percentage increase in the food sector was seen in fish fillets and beef, which saw a 32% increase. This was followed by a 20% rise in exports of milk, cream and lamb.
Prepared foods all exhibited double digit growth and the export of chocolate, the UK’s biggest value added product, also grew by 16%.
Some sectors, including breakfast cereals, reversed previous declines as a result of many firms ramping up their export activity to non EU countries, the FDF claimed.
Food and farming minister Jim Paice said: “Our food industry should be congratulated for its continued success. It’s a vital part of the British economy and can play a key part in the UK’s economic recovery.
“I want to make sure food businesses get the right support to exploit the potential for export led growth, which I believe can be achieved through the government’s export action plan.”
Last year, food exports from the UK broke the £10bn barrier as the industry continues its drive for 20% growth by 2020.