UK food and drink exports rose to their highest ever level in 2016 with chocolate, beer and cheese leading the charge.
Total exports increased by 10.5% to reach £20.2bn, according to the Food and Drink Federation, representing a 16th consecutive year of growth.
While whisky remained the top British export, chocolate, beer and cheese were the engines of growth delivering strong gains in both value and volume sales.
At 71.4%, EU Member States accounted for the lion’s share of exports, although sales to non-EU markets continued to grow at a faster rate.
America is now the second largest export market for the UK and the largest outside Europe, with exports increasing by 13% to £2.2bn in 2016.
China was the fastest growing export market with sales up 51.1% to £439.5m. Both the US and China have been identified by the government and the industry as priority markets for future trade deals once the UK exits the EU.
FDF director general Ian Wright said that despite the record figures, export markets still had massive untapped potential. “Our target is to grow branded exports by a third by 2020 to more than £6bn,” he said.
The growth in exports could not prevent a further widening of the UK’s trade deficit to £22.4bn in 2016, due in part to weaker sterling pushing up the cost of British imports.