British food companies are eager to tap into the Chinese market, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said Thursday in a statement. The statement came as DEFRA Secretary Owen Paterson was leading a delegation of 35 British food and drink businesses to attend a food and hotel exhibition in Shanghai in a bid to tap into the huge Chinese market. "I'm in Shanghai to bring some more great British products to Chinese buyers and help get more of British food and drink onto your supermarket shelves," the statement quoted Paterson as saying. Noting that there is huge potential for further growth on the back of China's growing demand for high quality British brands, he said he would "be doing all I can to promote our products and make it easier for aspiring British entrepreneurs to strike new export deals with China." The food and drink industry contributed a staggering 96.1 billion pounds (153.8 U.S. dollars) to Britain's economy last year, employing nearly 4 million people, according the DEFRA. The DEFRA and the the UK Trade & Investment department recently launched an international export action plan to encourage more food and drink companies to venture into overseas markets by supporting businesses at home and championing British food abroad. In recent years, Britain has made big efforts to cash in on its global reputation for quality food and drink, increasing exports by nearly 50 percent in the past decade.