Ten food firms, mostly from France, earned a collective €2.1bn from foreign sales in 2016, making up a fifth of the €7.4bn of overseas sales by France’s food industry, a study of the sector shows.

The export of production or processing services and equipment, is regarded as the most lucrative sector. Foreign sales rose by 8 per cent last year, the CSEA said in its annual report, confirming 2016 as the eighth consecutive year of growth.

Of the 10 companies on the list, only one, pork producer Petit Balley in Lorraine, is based in France’s northeast.

The top-10 companies earned €1.1bn, a fraction of the total sales of the industry, which totalled €4.4bn by the end of last year. However, the 10 winners have an average export turnover of €46m, half the overall value of the industry, according to the CSEA.

The 2017 success rate for the 10 top performers is 46 per cent, up on the 42 per cent in 2016. The survey is based on sales at both home and abroad.

Some producers of wheat and cereals are celebrating their success, while others have cautioned against any celebrations as the figures are split according to a set of criteria.

The value of wheat and cereals exports was down €20m, reflecting larger international competition. But the index of foreign wheat and cereals production exports, a measure of the market share obtained from overseas sales, rose by 2.7 per cent in 2017 to reach its highest level since the CSEA was first published in 1994.

However, the CSEA also warns that the exact value of wheat and cereals exports is difficult to determine as the wheat used for biofuels has been excluded.

“International wheat sales have been expanding steadily,” the CSEA said. “Exports have become the world’s most important export of wheat and are currently worth 12.2 per cent of the global wheat output.”