Danone today withdrew its financial guidance for 2020 due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but posted higher first-quarter sales as shoppers bought more dairy, plant-based and nutrition products to eat at home. 

The world's largest yoghurt maker said quarterly like-for-like sales rose a stronger-than-expected 3.7% to €6.242 billion. 

Increased at-home consumption and stockpiling in North America and Europe in March, due to government-imposed lockdowns to contain the virus, lifted demand for its staple dairy and plant-based products by 4.6%.

Sales of its specialised nutrition products also jumped 7.9%. 

Finance chief Cecile Cabanis said that consumers were opting for "indulgence and bigger formats" in dairy and plant-based goods, while brands like Actimel yoghurt - with immune system support claims - were in strong demand in Europe. 

This offset a 6.8% fall in water division sales, where demand was hit by the closure of restaurants and cafes. Around 40% of the division's sales are normally consumed away from home, the French company said. 

In China alone, where the relaunch of the Mizone brand had been delayed to the second quarter, water sales fell by around 40%, the group said.

"Second quarter demand and supply conditions will be broadly and deeply impacted by a global lockdown. Beyond the initial pantry loading trends we observed in March, we are unable to predict how the lockdown may affect both supply and demand," CEO Emmanuel Faber said in a statement. 

"Our board of directors therefore has decided to withdraw our financial guidance for the year, while we are managing with a view to protect and leverage our strong cash liquidity situation," he added. 

For 2020, Danone had been targetting like-for-like sales growth of 2-4% and an operating margin above 15%. These goals had already been revised down in February. 

Danone, however, said it remained confident of delivering its 2030 goals, accelerating topline growth, continuing to maximise efficiencies and allocating capital with discipline. 

Faber's strategy has centered on diversifying the group's portfolio into fast-growing products featuring probiotics, protein and plant-based ingredients to mitigate slower growth in dairy. 

In 2017, Danone bought US organic food producer WhiteWave in a $12.5 billion deal, to boost growth and bring the company more into line with healthier eating trends.