Chocolate is the UK’s biggest food export, worth some £257m to the economy

The number of food and drink makers operating in the UK has grown 6% to a total of 8,225 businesses, making it one of the country’s most successful industries, according to an analysis of new data from the Office for National Statistics by Santander.

Separate figures from the Food and Drink Federation also revealed it to be the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, with a turnover of £95.4bn - accounting for 18.3% of the total manufacturing industry.

However, despite this, one third of Brits (33%) think the food and drink sector is struggling and almost a fifth (18%) think British food is unpopular around the world.

“The UK food and drink manufacturing sector has become a major UK success story on an international scale,” Mark Collings, head of international at Santander SME Banking, said. “British people are proud of their local produce and certainly miss their favourite tea, chocolate, meat and cheese when travelling abroad, yet many do not realise quite how popular these items have become beyond our shores. Over the years the ‘Made in Britain’ brand has become synonymous with good quality products and services.”

The industry exports £12.8bn of food and non-alcohol drink products a year, 75% of which goes to the EU. Chocolate is the UK’s biggest food export, worth some £257m to the economy.

Ireland is the biggest export market for the UK, followed by France, the Netherlands and Germany, with the US coming in at number five.

According to the ONS data, the number of drinks manufacturer in the UK rose 17% to 1,390 firms for 2014, the second fastest-growing industrial sector year-on-year, and food producing businesses increased by 4% to 6,835.

London leads the combined food and drink manufacturing sector regionally in terms of the number of businesses, with 1,020, followed by the North West (930), South East (855), South West (845) and Scotland (815).