Wheat crop in UK© David Bagnall/Rex/Shutterstock

Weetabix has pledged to source all its wheat from British farmers for its products to mark the launch of the government’s new Great British Food Unit.

The Northamptonshire-based cereal company has been sourcing some of its wheat from overseas in recent years, blaming poor harvests.

For example, the failure of specialist crops for white bread in 2012 forced Weetabix to look elsewhere to source a small percentage of its wheat.

To mark the launch of the Defra food unit, Weetabix repeated its 2010 pledge to source 100% of its wheat from local farmers to “help guarantee the quality of its wholegrain wheat, supporting our growing rural economy and protecting the environment”.

In 2012, Bright Food – China’s second largest food manufacturing company – bought 60% of Weetabix for £1.2bn due to growing consumer markets in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Nanjing.

See also: British dairy businesses on trade mission to China

The iconic cereal is now reaching breakfast tables in 80 countries worldwide, including Africa, Germany, Spain and North America, with the Bright Food deal set to open markets in east and west Africa.

Defra said Weetabix’s success was exemplary of what hundreds of thousands of UK food and drink companies could achieve.

During a ministerial trip to the Weetabix factory in Kettering, Defra secretary Liz Truss said: “From Weetabix to Yeo Valley yoghurt, I want to see more of the Great British breakfast enjoyed around the world.

“Through the creation of the new Great British Food Unit companies large and small will now find it easier to export overseas and receive foreign investment.

“It is vital for our economic future that we make British food and farming all it can be – over the next five years we will do that by backing big business, supporting punchy start-ups and embracing our rich food heritage.”

The Great British Food Unit has been launched with the aim of matching France and Germany for food exports.

Ms Truss said the unit has been established to help the UK increase the value of food exports to £6bn by 2020.

The unit will bring together experts in exports and investment from Defra and across government to help even more businesses sell their world-class produce around the globe.

NFU president Meurig Raymond said UK farmers were under pressure from low commodity prices and he hoped the unit would create more opportunities to get more British products into new global markets.

“What I want to see now is more export markets being made available to British farmers to sell to countries such as China, Japan, the US and Saudi Arabia,” he added.

Mr Raymond said he was also pleased that the unit would focus on apprenticeships and entrepreneurialism, which would help to take farm businesses forward and improve performance in workforces.

The Food and Drink Federation estimates exports of manufactured goods alone will go up by a third to £6bn by 2020.