UK food and drink exports rose strongly in the first nine months of last year, according to new statistics.

Food and drink exports increased by 16% during the first three-quarters of 2008, generating GBP9.5bn (US$) in exports, a report from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), the Government organisation charged with helping UK-based companies succeed in the global economy, said today (16 March).

Soft drinks from the UK registered a 26.7% lift in exports in the period. Among the stronger performers abroad were smoothie maker Innocent Drinks, which has seen a 150% increase in exports to continental Europe in 2008 compared to 2007 and now has offices in eight European countries, the organisation said.

Trade and Investment Minister Lord Davies of Abersoch said: "Despite difficult trading conditions worldwide, 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."

John Adams, chief executive of UK trade body Food from Britain, said: "These latest figures show that there is strong demand around the world for British food and drink. I urge companies to grasp the opportunity that exporting provides. 

"I am glad that UKTI, together with its partners in the regions and the devolved administrations, has signalled so clearly the support that it intends to provide."

On 1 April, Food from Britain in the UK closes its doors, to be replaced by UKTI.