Food and drink export target met six years early
Figures show Scotland's food exports grew by 62% over four years while whisky sales hit record levels in 2011.
A target for Scotland's food and drink exports has been exceeded six years ahead of schedule, it has emerged.
The 10-year target to grow exports from £3.7bn to £5.1bn was set by industry body Scotland Food and Drink in 2007.
But figures published on Tuesday by HM Revenue and Customs show that exports reached an all-time high of £5.4bn in 2011, underpinned by strong performance from the whisky industry.
In 2011 whisky exports were worth a record £4.23bn, up 23% on 2010, while fish and shellfish were the highest-value food sector export, up 4% to £648.4m.
James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, said: "Whisky has been a trailblazer across the globe. But our food sector is now following its lead with exports up a staggering 62% in just four years, as our reputation as a land of food and drink grows day by day.
"Critically, we have the industry, from the salmon and seafood sectors to red meat and whisky, all working together under one roof through Scotland Food and Drink. That gives us a stronger platform to work in partnership with government to achieve growth we haven't seen before.
"These figures are a real bright spot in tough economic times. But our export industry has much further still to go."
Anne MacColl, chief executive of trade investment body Scottish Development International, said: "These figures further reinforce Scotland's growing international reputation as a world leader in the manufacturing of premium quality food and drink products.
"It's vital that Scottish food and drink companies broaden their horizons and take advantage of the changing patterns of international trade in order to realise their own growth potential."
Top export markets were France (up 18% to £825m) and the US (up 30% to £726m). Strong growth was also achieved in Asia, with 44% increases in both Singapore (to £319m) and China (to £92m).
The US remains the key market for whisky, up 31% to £655m, followed by France, up 27% to £535m.
Food exports increased 9% year on year to a record £1.16bn, with fish and shellfish accounting for 56%.
The fruit and vegetable sector achieved the fastest growth, up 62.4% to £62m.
Europe is the main export market for food. The top three countries for Scottish produce are France (worth £289m), Ireland (£104m) and Spain (£87m).
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: "Food and drink is a Scottish success story at a time when other industries have struggled and economic conditions have been tough. Therefore I congratulate our hard-working producers and organisations who deliver such excellent and premium food and drink."