Britain’s food manufacturers are being urged to target overseas sales, but agricultural produce such as fresh meat and fruit has already seen double-digit growth since January.

Food from Britain, which works to further the interests of UK food and drink producers abroad, said exports grew 3.1% to 4.65bn in the first six months of the year.

Sales of alcohol continued to form the backbone of exports, but FFB said fresh meat exports grew 16% to reach 254m with beef sales up more than a third to 12m.

Cheese exports also rose by a hefty 12% to reach 103m and fresh fruit rose 28% to 51m.

However, FFB chief executive, David McNair, believed that opportunities were still going begging.

“Although the UK has a 10bn food and drink export market, we lag significantly behind other European nations such as France and Germany which export twice as much.

“With the reputation of world-class innovators, the UK food and drink industry needs to shed its ‘island’ mentality and become more competitive on the world stage.

“Until this happens, we are unlikely to maximise opportunities overseas.”

Exports to the EU accounted for two-thirds of the total exports, and showed modest growth of 3.6%, mostly to Ireland and France.

But the 10 new member states, and Latvia and Poland in particular, proved a lucrative market, with exports increasing 13% to 90m.