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UK food and drinks suppliers should be doing more to trade with China as the UK gets set to begin the process of exiting the EU, Defra secretary has told an export forum this week.

The industry needed to step up the challenge of cracking the Chinese market if it was to benefit from the “huge rewards” on offer. The secretary of state said in a keynote address to the Food & Drink Exporter’s Association (FDEA) network forum 2016 on Wednesday.

However, critics in the audience accused the government of being naïve and spelled out the difficulties of breaking into China.

Leadsom added that she was “overwhelmed by the sheer enthusiasm” in China, during her first visit to the country in November, for British food and drink products

However, the minister warned that UK companies were not doing enough to keep up with the demand from China.

“[At a roundtable event in China] it became clear that demand is often outpacing supply,” she told the delegates at the FDEA forum. “Some organisations have found it harder than expected to tap into markets, and remain unable to find a way in.

“And although it can be a difficult market to break, and there will be some initial challenges, the economic prizes are huge.”

Leadsom launched an ambitious food and drink action plan in October, aiming to boost exports by £2.9bn in the next five years across nine key markets across 18 countries, including China – which is targeted for an extra £405m in overseas trade by 2020. The government is also negotiating to gain access to the lucrative Chinese market for British beef.

For the full story with comments from food and drink suppliers and more from the secretary of state, see this morning.

Morning update

A statement from KPMG in response to an enquiry by The Grocer confirmed that halal poultry supplier Yorkshire Poultry Products had been sold after falling into administration. The accountancy firm said the directors of the company put forward a rescue package, including retaining all 126 employees. A sale of the business and assets of the company was completed shortly after the joint administrators’ appointment. The full story will be live on later this morning.

Elsewhere this morning there is an exclusive on the administration of a food and drink distributor.

The owner of Simple Simon Foods has reacquired the business out of administration in a pre-pack deal a little more than two months after originally taking over the food and drinks distributor. DDC Foods, which distributes a range of products, including crisps, popcorn and snack bars, nationwide, first acquired Simple Simon Foods Ltd on 29 September 2016, according to its most recent set of accounts at Companies House.

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Yesterday in the City

Heineken (HEIA) fell 0.7% to €70.34 after news emerged that it had been victorious in its pursuit of pubco Punch Taverns. The £400m-plus deal pushed up Punch shares another 8% to 191.3p – up 50% this week as the takeover approach became public. However, it is above the 180p-a-share offer from the Heineken/Patron joint bid indicating the City thinks there is room for a higher offer.

PZ Cussons (PZC) shares sank 1.7% to 308.5p yesterday as the personal goods manufacturer issued a trading update for the six months to 30 November stating that it remained confident despite Nigerian currency woes.

Just Eat (JE) leapt 2.1% to 609.9p after the takeaway delivery gobbled up UK rival Hungry House in a £200m deal.

WH Smith (SMWH) got a 4.4% bump to 1,510p after Deutsche Bank returned its rating to ‘buy’ on the back of growth in the travel division.

Coca-Cola HBC (CCH) also rose 3% to 1,664p, Compass Group (CPG) was up 2.4% to 1,411p and Greggs (GRG) climbed 2.2% to 934.5p.

Associated British Foods (ABF) was among the fallers, down 1.3% to 2,676p, Greencore (GNC) was down 0.7% to 235.5p and B&M European Value Retail (BME) fell 0.5% to 260.5p.

The FTSE 100 continued to make gains and edge closer to 7,000 points, climbing 0.7% to 6,999.01 points after the US Federal Reserve hiked interest rates as expected.