Northern Foods has filed for its first patent and has plans to extend the policy to cover other product launches as well as manufacturing processes.

The application has been filed for a product not yet launched called Mini Party Rings an extension of the Fox's biscuit brand that will be packaged in bags.

The company, which supplies Marks & Spencer and owns Goodfella's pizza, has not previously followed rivals such as Heinz into patenting. However, chief executive Stefan Barden confirmed "products and processes" would now be a priority.

Barden revealed the plans as the company published its results for the year to 3 April 2010.

Underlying pre-tax profits inched up from £39m to £39.2m, as did turnover from £975.2m to £977m. Net debt fell to £183m from £206.7m.

Barden said the company had high expectations for the relaunch of its struggling Goodfella's pizza brand. But he warned that the increased marketing spend on the 'pizza fairy' advertising push would be felt on the company's bottom line. It would take 12 weeks to see the effects of the new campaign, "as we want to look at the underlying repeat purchase", Barden said.

Northern Foods hailed a strong performance in its chilled food division, where "demand for fresh, healthy and convenience food remains strong". Underlying sales increased by 6.4%, driven by sandwiches and salads. Its bakery division sales were up 3.1% on last year, driven by branded and own-label biscuits. Sales volume of puddings fell due to strong competition, with frozen also down.