Products such as Cadbury’s Green & Black’s chocolate have helped the Birmingham confectionery giant defy the export downturn and lead a surge in sales of British food and drink abroad.

The UK’s food and drink export sector enjoyed double-digit growth during the first three-quarters of 2008 – a rise of 16 per cent which generated almost £10 billion in exports.

Cadbury holds the No.1 or No. 2 spots in more than 20 of the world’s 50 largest confectionery markets.

Trade and Investment Minister Lord Davies of Abersoch said: “Despite difficult conditions, British cheese, chocolate and soft drinks are winning impressive sales overseas. This clearly shows how a focus on exports can help British firms in the current climate.”

UK food and drink exports for the nine-month period from January to September 2008 were up 15.9 per cent to £9.49billion.

Cheese exports grew by 22.3 per cent, while soft drinks rose by 26.7 per cent and chocolate sales rose by 13.8 per cent.

Other UK export success stories include Wallace & Gromit favourite, Wensleydale. North Yorkshire’s Wensleydale Creamery was helped by UK Trade & Investment to investigate opportunities in the European Union and won a Tradeshow Access Programme grant to visit a food and drink event in France.

Another export leader, smoothie maker Innocent, has seen a 150 per cent increase in exports to continental Europe in 2008 compared to 2007 and now has offices in eight different European countries.

The best-performing markets included Poland and Russia, which are now among the top 20 destinations for British food and drink with exports rising 57.3 per cent and 26.3 per cent respectively to these two countries.

John Adams, chief executive of Food from Britain, the agency which works with UK food and drink manufacturers to find new markets overseas, said: “These latest figures show that there is strong demand around the world for British food and drink.”

Food from Britain will close at the end of March and its activities will be taken up by UK Trade & Investment.

Lord Davies said: “Food from Britain has helped hundreds of UK companies to find markets overseas. The mantle now falls on UK Trade & Investment, and we welcome this important responsibility.

“Companies should register on our website so that they can continue to receive information about the government help on offer.”