Danone has today (17 April) reported an increase in first-quarter sales that exceeded analysts’ estimates as growth from baby food boosted the French group amid a mixed performance from dairy.

The Aptamil formula and Activia yoghurt manufacturer posted a 6.9% rise in like-for-like sales for the three months to the end of March. The consensus forecast among analysts was for growth of 5.8%.

A 3.8% increase in sales volumes helped Danone’s baby nutrition unit to report a 9% rise in like-for-like sales. Asia, the Middle East, Turkey and the UK were the “prime drivers” for the division’s growth, the company said.

However, Danone still has challenges in the fresh dairy sector. In 2011, Danone’s fresh dairy volumes fell 0.1% after a 1.7% drop in the fourth quarter of the year.

In the first quarter of 2012, sales volumes fell 0.1% thanks to “deteriorated conditions” in southern Europe. The fall in sales in Europe weighed on the growth that Danone generated from its fresh dairy unit. Like-for-like sales increased 3.8%, which Sanford Bernstein analyst Andrew Wood called “subdued”.

Danone did point to “double-digit” increases in fresh dairy sales in Latin America and its combined division for Africa and the Middle East. It added moves to boost sales in the CIS region and the US were paying off, with sales up during the quarter.

Shares in Danone were up 1.96% at EUR52.59 at 10:13 CET.

Click here for the full first-quarter update from Danone.