Booming sales of popcorn brand Butterkist, which is currently on the auction block, has helped slow a decline in sales at parent Tangerine Confectionery.

Total revenues at the group dipped by almost £800,000 to £151.9m in 2015 but Butterkist popcorn sales soared 30%, new accounts on Companies House showed, although it did not provide a breakdown for the figures.

Tangerine blamed interruptions in production caused by factory closures for a fall in sugar confectionery sales.

Total turnover in the UK actually increased last year, from £139.6m in 2014 to £141.4m, but exports to Europe and the rest of the world fell by about £2m to £10.5m.

As reported by The Grocer in July, the US private equity owner of Tangerine, Blackstone, has hired advisers at Stamford Partners to find a buyer for Butterkist. The sales process was not expected to kick off until after the summer.

The popcorn brand is the market leader in a category undergoing massive growth, accounting for £45.5m of total supermarket sales of £114.3m last year and growing its value by 30% [IRI 52 w/e 5 December 2015].

Blackstone is hoping Butterkist will command a premium valuation if sold as a standalone brand.

Butterkist sits alongside other Tangerine iconic sweet brands such as Sherbet Fountain, Refreshers, Black Jack and Fruit Salad. However, Tangerine has struggled with the confectionery side of the business in the past two years as it closed factories and the war on sugar intensified.

Tangerine managed to increase group EBITDA by 36% to £20.6m despite the overall decline in revenues thanks to efficiencies stemming from factory closures, an improved product mix, currency exchange benefits and investment in NPD and capex.

A factory in Blackpool was closed in March 2015, with production transferred to other sites. Exceptional costs related to the closure of about £2m lowered operating profits to £11.1m, but it was still £6m more than the £4.9m booked in 2014 when one-off charges were more than £4m after a site in Dorset was shut. Pre-tax profits increased from £2.1m to £9.4m.

“The market is expected to continue to be extremely competitive in 2016 and the growing debate on the cost of obesity will undoubtedly impact on the business,” chairman Steven Joseph said in the accounts.

“However, the directors are confident that the company’s investment in NPD and its philosophy to be a responsible supplier will allow Tangerine to grow its business and maintain its position in the confectionery and popcorn market in the future.”

Tangerine has expanded rapidly since 2006, with revenues more than quadrupling to almost £170m by the end of 2013. The group blamed a “tough climate” and “fundamental” changes in the business for the fall in sales to £158.4m in 2014.

Blackstone acquired a 40% stake in the group from Growth Capital Partners in 2011.