Mr Kipling maker Premier Foods has hailed a “very encouraging” start to the financial year as sales reached the “top end” of its targets for past quarter.

The group, which also owns the Ambrosia, Sharwood’s and Oxo brands, reported a 13.2% decline for the quarter to July 3 against the same period last year, with a 6.3% rise compared with the period in 2019 before its pandemic-fuelled jump.

The grocery supplier said it was buoyed by progress with healthier ranges such as low-fat sauces, as customers “adopted good healthier eating habits during the pandemic”.

Premier Foods highlighted “particularly strong progress” from its Ambrosia, Bisto, Oxo, Sharwood’s and Paxo brands, which all reported double-digit growth against 2019’s levels.

The firm said non-branded grocery sales were lower compared with two years ago amid a “slow recovery in the group’s out-of-home businesses in the quarter”.

The group’s sweet treats business saw branded sales jump 3.2% against last year as Mr Kipling continued to “grow strongly” with 7.5% growth for the quarter.

It said sales of its Cadbury cakes were “impacted by the earlier timing of Easter” compared with other years, while lower margin non-branded sales dipped due to the end of contracts.

Premier Foods chief executive Alex Whitehouse said: “We have made a very encouraging start to the year, with quarter one sales at the top end of our expectations, as our brands again benefited from the introduction of new products and continued marketing.

“When compared to two years ago, our branded sales increased by over 9%, with grocery brands up 12%, continuing the strong momentum of recent years.

“As expected, overall sales were down compared to the same quarter a year ago when we saw exceptionally high grocery volumes during the first national lockdown.”

Shares in the company were 2.9% higher at 108p on Friday morning.