Nestlé has posted a 3.4% increase in first quarter growth but said sales in Europe had got off to a slow start.

First quarter sales totalled SF20.4bn up from SF19.7bn last year. The Swiss giant said organic sales growth was 5.1% for the period.

Sales of Nestlé’s milk, nutrition and ice cream were ahead 7.6%, while confectionery rose just 1.9%. Culinary products edged up 2%, petcare rose 9.1% and pharma items increased 10.9%.

Nestlé said that first quarter growth was strong in the Americas, Asia/Oceania/Africa, but that Europe was “off to a slow start, reflecting primarily a difficult retail environment in Nestlé's three most important markets”.

The company said its water business also had a “slow start” compared to last year due to “pre-war stockpiling” in the US. But said that planned product launches in Europe, plus normal growth in the US would improve performance in the coming months.