Northern Foods said today (26 March) that sales growth accelerated in its fourth-quarter, as chilled pizzas and discounted sandwiches appealed to the UK’s cash-strapped shoppers.

In a trading statement released ahead of its year-end results, Northern said that sales gained 8.8% for the fourth quarter and 4.7% for the full year.

The Fox’s biscuit maker said that profits would be in line with market exoectations this morning, revealing that trading has remained “robust” in a “challenging environment”.
Gains were driven by increased sales at the company’s chilled division, where sales were up 5.5% and 12.5% in the full-year and fourth quarter respectively. Northern has responded to the downturn by introducing “recession-beating” discount sandwiches and chilled pizzas.

In the bakery division, annual revenue was also up 5.5%, with fourth-quarter sales rising 10.4%. Northern said that the unit benefitted from volumes gains and higher prices, with the Fox’s brand benefitting from the `Vinnie’ TV advertising campaign in 2008.

Northern added that it is “also continuing with the evaluation of an investment in a world class biscuits manufacturing facility”.

Frozen food sales were slightly up year on year, at 2.5%, weighed down by a 2.2% gain in the fourth quarter as declining volumes sales.

Nevertheless, Northern remained upbeat. “The relaunch of San Marco pizza and McDougall’s frozen pies during the period will build on our proposition to target the cash conscious consumer,” the company said.

Commenting on the results, chief executive Stefan Barden said: “In a tough market, Northern Foods is trading strongly and we anticipate that our full year profit before tax will be in line with market expectations.

“We have adapted the business successfully to the new retail environment and we are benefiting from our operational and financial strengths. We are well positioned to continue our good progress.”