Northern Foods, the UK food group, has told just-food it is looking to speed up sales growth after a slowdown in sales hit the company's shares today (6 October).

The company posted an increase in group like-for-like sales of 2.9% for the six months to 26 August. In July, Northern reported first-quarter like-for-like sales of 5.5%.

Paula Widdowson, director of corporate social responsibility for Northern Foods, told just-food that there was a "variety of factors" for the slowdown in growth

"It goes back to people having less disposable income. We now have people saving more than we have ever had for 14 years. Their money is going somewhere else."

Northern makes a range of ready meals for UK retailers like Marks and Spencer and Aldi.

Speaking on the sidelines of a food industry conference in Leeds, Widdowson said the success that the likes of Sainsbury's have had in encouraging people to cook from scratch - with its 'feed a family for a fiver' campaign - had affected Northern's business.

"They've done a good job," she said. "It [growth] won't change until people feel more secure. People will make their own sandwich for lunchtime or cook from scratch for an evening meal to save money."

However, she added: "We know we are well prepared. Ready meals are coming back, biscuits are continuing to grow, the pizza market is growing. What we are looking to do is speed that growth up."

Widdowson was speaking at the English Farming and Food Partnership's (EFFP) annual 'Food in a Challenging World' conference in Leeds today.

The Northern CSR director said the current issue surrounding sustainability is about delivering "the same product, with the same quality, for the same price".

"The consumer is fantastic, clever articulate and well-informed. We have the cost of energy going up, the 10% tax rise next year and the fact that people aren't going to get a pay rise," Widdowson told just-food. "A great quote from David Ogilvy is: 'The consumer is not stupid, she is your wife.'"

She added: "Consumers aren't interested in all the behind the scenes. They know it, they don't want it reinforced. We just need to provide them with the convenience. They don't want to know that packaging is more sustainable, that we have taken so many miles out and that more packaging has been taken off.

"It's also about increasing sustainable cash flow. It's not philanthropy, it's a good strong business plan. There is still so much more to do."