Associated British Foods' Primark discount fashion retailing arm traded well through the Easter holidays, the group's boss said, countering fears that UK consumer demand was fading. 

Industry data published earlier this month showed UK shoppers clamped down on their spending in the first quarter of 2017 as rising inflation and slowing wage growth dented disposable income. 

"In clothes the effect of consumers tightening their belts is probably swamped by a later Easter, good weather and great ranges in store," the company's chief executive George Weston told Reuters. 

"Maybe we’re bucking the trend in some respects but if you offer what the consumer is looking for then you can trade through difficult times," he said after the group reported a 36% rise in first-half profit. 

Primark's UK like-for-like sales rose 2% in the six months to March 4. Primark trades as Penney's here. 

"We traded very well through Easter," said Weston, referring to trading since the end of its financial half-year period. 

He also said he did not expect a UK general election, called yesterday, to affect demand. 

However, he had detected some recent pull-back by consumers in the group's grocery business. 

"In grocery we have seen more people trading down to own label as one effect and basket sizes being pretty flat year-on-year," he said.

Weston was speaking after AB Foods raised its profit forecast for the full year ending in September.

This came on the back of the better than expected first-half results that were driven by a rebound in its sugar business, resilience at Primark and progress at its ingredients and grocery operations. 

In the six months to March 4 the company made an adjusted operating profit of £652m - ahead of the average of analysts' forecasts of £623m, according to Reuters data. 

Revenue rose 19% to £7.3 billion while the interim dividend was increased by 10% to 11.35 pence. 

Operating profit from sugar jumped to £123m from just £3m last year, reflecting higher global sugar prices and the group's move to take costs out of the business and re-shape its portfolio.

It sold out of its sugar cane business in southern China and also took full ownership of Illovo in Africa. 

Shares in the group, majority owned by Weston's family, had fallen 19% over the last year due to concerns over the impact of a weaker pound on Primark's profit margin. 

Primark accounts for over half of AB Foods' profit.

"Our outlook for the group's full-year results has improved and we now expect to report good growth in adjusted operating profit and adjusted earnings per share," the company's chairman Charles Sinclair said in the results statement. 

He did, however, caution that profit growth in the second half would, at current exchange rates, be tempered primarily by a smaller currency translation benefit and the full effect of the devaluation of sterling against the dollar on Primark's margin. 

Though AB Foods lost out in the bidding for Weetabix to US firm Post Holdings this week, the firm remains interested in doing other deals in grocery, where it already owns a number of food brands including Twinings Ovaltine, Kingsmill and Jordans. 

"M&A does form a part of our strategy," said Weston, noting the group's net cash balance of £190m at the end of the first-half period.