Compass Group grew its pre-tax profits by 18.6% to £459m in the past six months following what the catering giant called “another strong performance in a challenging environment”.

Sales of £7.1bn in the six months to 31 March were up 2.6% on the equivalent period last year.

The group’s figures were helped by favourable foreign exchange rates boosting the income from its overseas businesses, but organic growth was also up 0.4%. Its underlying operating margin increased from 6.5% to 7%.

“An acceleration in new business wins and continued progress in operating efficiency has delivered significant growth in the margin of 50 basis points,” said chief executive Richard Cousins.

“It is very encouraging that organic revenue growth is now returning,” he added. “As we look forward we will maintain our relentless focus on efficiency, but at the same time we are laying strong foundations for the future growth of the group.”

Shares in the group were up almost 3% in early trading this morning following the announcement.

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Compass Group announces strong half year growth (13 May 2009)