Britain's food and drink exports are set to break the £10bn barrier for the first time since 1996, according to export agency Food From Britain, which announced half-year food and drink export figures this week.

Significantly, this amount will be reached with beef exports only accounting for £23m at the half-year stage. When British exports last reached £10bn, beef exports were worth almost £600m for the full year.

Total food and drink exports for January to June 2006 were worth £4.8bn, up 3.4% on the same period in 2005. FFB forecasts indicate that by the end of 2006 the British food and drink export market will be worth £10.2bn - higher than ever before - with positive export performances to both EU and non-EU countries.

Beverages accounted for a large share of the total food and drink UK export market. Soft drinks as a whole increased by almost a third, worth £122m in the half year, with fruit juices up by 24% to £17m. Tea also showed signs of recovery compared with last year's performance, generating an increase of 20% to £75m. Beer fared well with an increase of 6% to £176m.

Bread, pastry and cake exports rose nearly 8% to £223m. Other successful products were chocolate and chocolate confectionery, accounting for £124m, and cheese, at £109m, with both sectors up more than 5%.

David McNair, chief executive of FFB, said: "Having experienced positive export figures for the past six years, I am confident in saying that we have reached a sustained period of growth. What is particularly exciting about the strength of the market is that it has been achieved largely without the contribution of red meat - traditionally a stalwart of Britain's food exports. As meat exports continue to recover, we will no doubt see further record-breaking performances."

The UK's top three export countries, namely Ireland, France and the US, continued to offer rich pickings, climbing 9%, 10% and 6% respectively on 2005.

Exports to the EU reached £3.1bn, up 2.7%. Latin America climbed 17%.