First Britain gave the world the cooked breakfast; now it is sharing its breakfast cereals.

Cereals have replaced chocolate as Britain's biggest food export, according to new figures from the Food & Drink Federation. Sales of breakfast cereals rose 17.2% to £413.4m in 2009, while chocolate sales increased 1.1% to £365.9m.

The cereals category has targeted overseas markets more aggressively over the past couple of years to capitalise on the weak pound.

"British food has a good heritage and a reputation for quality and cereals fit in with a lot of the health and nutrition trends," said the FDF's Julian Hunt.

Eat Natural saw exports soar 25% last year as it targeted north European markets. Dorset Cereals has also seen exports increase "significantly" in the past year to account for 20% of its turnover, with muesli being its biggest-selling product overseas.

The Weetabix Food Company, meanwhile, has increased sales to the Middle East 30% since 2008.

The news comes as British food and non-alcoholic drink exports hit record levels, up 4.4% to £9.65bn after five consecutive years of growth. FDF boss Melanie Leech called the figures "testimony to the entrepreneurial spirit of British manufacturers".