DCS Europe posted the biggest sales increase in its history last year, despite economic turmoil in Europe and political uprisings in the Middle East hitting its exports.

The wholesaler and distributor said sales rose 16% to £149m in 2012, with strong showings from its DCS Central Distribution and UK Discount Division, both up 30%, and its manufacturing business, up 20%.

But exports fell 15.6% from £16m to £13.5m. European sales slumped 60%, although non-European sales rose 52%. DCS had also been affected by unrest in Libya, Egypt and Syria, said CEO Denys Shortt.

In 2011, The Grocer revealed a DCS container had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and been used as a roadblock in Libya. DCS was now shipping weekly to Libya, but the market remained difficult, admitted Shortt.

“It is not necessarily the physical challenges of movement of goods but the payment challenges,” he said. “We only ship after goods have been paid for and it is sometimes difficult for customers to send GB pounds electronically. Also, they have to give credit to their customers in Libya, so often finance restricts volume of orders.”

The Syrian outlook was not expected to improve imminently, but “modest growth” was forecast for Egypt and Libyan sales had actually grown 36% since the end of the previous regime.

While the situation in the Middle East remained volatile, DCS was eyeing £17m exports this year, added Shortt, who was awarded an OBE in the New Year Honours.

He also took a swipe at companies that located their export divisions outside the UK to save tax. “Many have moved their export head offices abroad to Geneva, Dubai or Singapore in order to save corporation tax,” he said. “This is damaging to Britain’s exports because we are no longer the hub of all exports.”