Weetabix sales fell back once more last year as the UK-based cereal giant battled its “most difficult [trading] period for a generation”.

Globally, Weetabix’s sales, including joint ventures and its North American business, slipped 1.3% to £432.8m in the year to 2 January 2016. This was driven by a 2.4% revenue fall in its UK business to £350.8m.

Weetabix grew UK cereal market share from 14.5% to 14.8% by value, with UK branded sales rising by 1.7% and volumes up by 4.7%.

However, private label sales plunged 12.2% during the period due to the axing of a number of contracts, pricing pressures and the continued consumer shift from its traditional retail partners to the discounters.”A combination of competition from outside the UK, encouraged in part by the weakness of the euro against sterling, plus excess capital within the UK, meant pricing became an issue,” Weetabix admitted. “We chose not to follow pricing down as aggressively as the market and saw volumes fall.”

Weetabix said subdued volumes and price deflation hit trading, but it was also affected by “inevitable distractions” relating to the transfer of a 40% stake from Lion Capital to Baring Private Equity Asia.

Former owner Lion sold a 60% stake to China’s Bright Food in 2012 and its remaining stake to Hong Kong-based Baring in September last year.

Despite this “distraction” Weetabix said the Baring deal had “helped reinvigorate our operation in China” and would help build its business in Asia.

Sales derived in locations other than the UK, EU and North America so far remain relatively modest, rising 2.1% to £16.7m during the year.

EU sales rose 1.9% to £79.8m and, according to the accounts of its parent company Latimer Newco 2, North American sales rose by 2% to £79.8m. North American sales were boosted by currency movements and represented a 1.4% decline at constant currency.

Pre-tax profits at Weetabix Ltd fell 13.5% during the year to £94.3m. Holding company Latimer Newco 2 made a £221k loss after a £359k profit last year.That loss rose to a £9.9m loss post taxation and was largely due to administrative expenses of £78.8m and interest charges of £52.9m.

During the year, Weetabix Ltd took exceptional charges of £5.5m, driven by £5m relative to its cost improvement programme at its Burton Latimer and Corby factories.

Following the completion of the Baring investment, a “major refinancing” was completed in October 2015 that provided “a strong financial platform and sufficient flexibility to execute our key growth plans for the coming years”.

Weetabix said it remained confident in its three-year strategy, including targeting growth in Asia, to achieve top-line growth and improved financial performance.

“Our commitment to securing the long term, as well as the short term, is demonstrated by our decision to increase consumer marketing spend in these though conditions and continue to invest in the growth of our business in China,” it said.