Africa and the Middle East have driven a rise in exports of food and non-alcoholic drinks from the UK in the first half of 2012, figures show.

For the six months to the end of June, food and soft drinks exports increased by 2.2% to GBP5.9bn (US$9.6bn), the UK Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said today (28 September).

Exports to Africa and the Middle East jumped by almost 24% and 18% respectively, offsetting mixed demand across the European Union.

Chocolate was the main beneficiary of growth, with export sales up by 31% to GBP239m over the same period of 2011, said the trade body. United Arab Emirates was a strong chocolate importer and also bought more than double the amount of UK fish and seafood than in the first half of 2011.

However, fish and seafood was one of the biggest fallers over the half-year period. According to category-by-category figures, fish exports dropped by around 6% to GBP656m.

At the other end, cereals and bakery exports rose by 6% to break the GBP1bn barrier, while fruit and vegetable exports jumped by a quarter to GBP629m.

The FDF’s commercial services manager, Steve Barnes, said: “Our brands have strong reputations in international markets and it is a credit to our manufacturers that despite difficulties experienced in many key EU markets, they have continued to drive forward sales by making in-roads into new markets.”