OVERSEAS visitors are heading home with bulging shopping bags, according to new figures that show Scotland's food and drink sector is proving a massive hit.

Fresh research has revealed foreign tourists are more likely to buy food and drink in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK.

The data, released by VisitBritain and based on a report from the Office of National Statistics, found 40 per cent of visitors to Scotland from outside the UK buy food or drink to take home with them, well ahead of those who go to the north-east of England, which came in second place with 32 per cent.

And it appears Scotland is also the most popular region of the UK for memento hunters, with nearly a quarter of overseas visitors buying holiday souvenirs while in the country.

Scotland also ranked very highly for buying clothes or shoes, with more than two in five visitors making such purchases.

VisitScotland, the country's national tourism agency, said tourists were snapping up a diverse larder of Scottish produce each year, and were happy to indulge their sweet tooth.

Staff at its information centres say the most popular food and drink for overseas tourists include whisky, whisky fudge, Edinburgh Rock, shortbread and tablet.

Scotland's other national drink, Irn-Bru, also appeared on tourists' shopping list, as did Scottish honey, jam and marmalade, Stornoway black pudding and tinned haggis.

Next year a Year of Food and Drink is being held to celebrate the role Scottish cuisine plays in shaping the country's economic success, and tourism chiefs say it remains an integral part of the economy worth £13 billion a year. They have said that the target is now to grow the sector to £16.5 billion by 2017.

VisitScotland's Chief Executive, Malcolm Roughead, said: "Not only did Scotland outperform London in terms of total spend growth between 2012 and 2013, but this country is also leading the way in the UK for overseas visitors purchasing our wonderful food, drink and high-quality souvenirs.

"From delicious shortbreads and tasty tablet to local crafts, jewellery and of course whisky, wherever visitors are, they can find a wide range of delicious local flavours and souvenirs to purchase and take home as a reminder of their visit."

Every year VisitBritain adds extra questions to its Office for National Statistics International Passenger Survey to give it a better understanding of the needs and characteristics of overseas visitors to Britain.

This year's report found that tourists from Arab countries such as Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar make the most purchases when they come to the UK.

The Chinese are less keen to hit the shops, and fail to make it into most of the top positions in the tables published by VisitBritain.

The French are among the overseas tourists most likely to buy food and drink, but on average spend only £343 per person.

Kuwaiti visitors have the deepest pockets and spend £4000 on average, while those from Qatar spend around £3000.

Patricia Yates, director of strategy at VisitBritain, added: "This new research underpins Scotland's growing potential as an international destination, topping the tables for propensity to buy food or drink and souvenirs across all countries polled.

"International tourists are actually more inclined to buy food or drink in Scotland than any other part of the United Kingdom. In terms of total spend, Scotland continues to excel, outperforming Britain and London last year."