Higher sugar sales and strong growth at the Primark clothes retailer helped Associated British Foods to insulate itself against tough conditions in the UK food grocery market in its first fiscal quarter.

For the 16 weeks to 5 January, Associated British Foods (ABF) said today (17 January) that net sales rose by 10% on the same period of last year. It did not release sales amounts.

ABF was particularly pleased with Primark’s performance, with the clothes retailer seeing sales rise by 25% over the period. There was also a 12% rise in sugar sales and a 3% increase in the group’s agriculture division, thanks to higher demand for feed and feed enzyme.

Those business units helped to offset tougher conditions in grocery, where sales were flat on the previous year. Grocery sales actually declined in Australia, but were held up elsewhere by Twinings Ovaltine and higher bread prices.

In ingredients, sales were also level with the same period of the prior year.

On its bottom line, ABF management said that operating cashflow improved during the period due to higher profits.

In its outlook, the firm said: “As previously indicated, the full year result for AB Sugar is expected to be lower than last year but we anticipate that this will be more than offset by growth at Primark and some recovery in grocery.

“In light of the group’s current performance we now expect to make further progress in adjusted operating profit for the full year, with the improvement heavily weighted towards the first half.”