UK food and non-alcohol drink exports have smashed through the £12bn barrier on the back of an 11.4% increase in 2011.

The £12.15bn total exceeded expectations said the Food and Drink Federation.

Export growth has been fuelled by strong performance in new and emerging markets including Eastern Europe and the Far East.

China entered the top 20 export destinations for the first time with a 55% increase on 2010, partly due to changing tastes and an increasingly westernised diet. South Korea increased by 37% and Hong Kong by 41%.

Established non EU markets also performed well with exports to the US rising by 25% between 2010-2011. The non EU share of the £12 billion total was 23% compared to 77% for the EU.

Ireland remains the top export market closely followed by France and the Netherlands. Dutch interest in UK products increased with a 30% increase echoed by Belgium (29.9%) and Germany (15%).

The highest percentage rises in food were seen in fish fillets (32%); beef (32%); milk and cream (20%); lamb (20%) and cheese (18%). Prepared foods (including prepared meat; sweet biscuits and soft drinks) all exhibited double digit growth and the export of chocolate, the UK’s biggest value added product, grew by 16%.

“Whilst 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,” said FDF Director General Melanie Leech.

“We were delighted to work with Government on the export action plan launched earlier this year, which should be of benefit in particular to SMEs which are by far the biggest sector of our industry and have the potential to grow in existing and emerging markets.”

Meanwhile according to consultants Indecon International Economic Consultants, nearly 10% of Irish food exports went to Tesco in 2010, worth a total of €705.7m. The Irish beef industry was especially dependent upon Tesco, Indecon said, with 14% of all Irish beef exports going to the supermarket’s stores in the UK, Central Europe and Asia. Overall Tesco was now worth €2.7bn a year to the Irish economy, the report suggested.