UK exports of branded food and non-alcoholic drinks increased again in 2015, representing the 15th year of consecutive growth, the Food & Drink Federation said today (2 March).

Despite exports overall falling by £0.6bn to £12.3bn in 2015, branded exports grew by 0.9% to £4.63bn, with chocolate, salmon and cheese remaining the top three categories, and vegetables, both prepared and fresh, experiencing the largest overall rise, up £18m to £336.3m.

The new FDF figures show that non-EU markets now buy 30.8% of the UK’s total branded food and non-alcoholic drink exports, at a value up 6.4% on 2014 figures to £3.4bn. China became one of the UK’s top 10 overseas trade partners for the first time in 2015 (at £237.5m), taking in processed milk worth £29m and making the UK its chief EU supplier of tea.

In terms of the biggest market growth, the UK saw exports to Thailand increase by £59.3m (122%) to £107.9m, with cereals making up £21.5m. While exports to the EU fell by 1.3% in 2015, Spain took in an extra £46m (9%) of branded UK products, after high temperatures and a lack of rain in 2015 resulted in it becoming more reliant on imports of UK wheat and barley.

“Growing exports is a top priority for Britain’s makers, bakers and bottlers, who have set an ambition to increase branded exports by a third by 2020,” said FDF director of competitiveness Angela Coleshill.

“For our industry to meet this stretching target, we need to make sure small and medium-sized food companies in particular are helped to compete in the fiercely competitive global marketplace.”

Elsa Fairbanks, director at the Food & Drink Exporters Association, added that the quality and innovation of British products were the main appeals to overseas buyers.

“Growth is particularly coming from products where the UK excels: iconic brands combined with expertise in health, wellbeing and free-from,” she said.