Associated British Foods said today that trading to date at its Primark fashion business had been ahead of expectations in its new financial year, with improved like-for-like sales compared to the fourth quarter of its last year.

Primark, which is known as Penneys here, trades from 400 stores in Europe and the US but does not have an online operation.

It said it was managing disruption in its supply chain by prioritising products most in demand with the support of its logistics providers.

As a result Primark has stock cover on the vast majority of lines for the important Christmas trading period.

The group noted the incidence of Covid-19 cases is increasing and the public health measures taken to date in Primark's markets are mainly restrictions in trading hours in the Netherlands, the requirement for vaccine passes in Germany and the closure of five stores in Austria.

Primark's margin in the year to date had also been ahead of expectations.

"Looking ahead we currently expect Primark sales to be significantly better than sales in the comparable period in the last financial year, from December 2020 to April 2021, when the estate was largely closed," the group said in a statement ahead of its annual shareholders' meeting.

AB Foods also owns major sugar, grocery, ingredients and agricultural operations, which it said had traded in line with expectations so far in the new year.

It said it continued to expect "significant progress" at both the half and full year, in adjusted operating profit and adjusted earnings per share.

The group's grocery brands include Silver Spoon sugar, Twinings tea, Jordans cereals, Kingsmill bread and Ovaltine drinks.

It said it had offset rising energy, logistics and commodities costs with savings and price rises where necessary.

Meanwhile, the finance chief of owner Associated British Foods said today that the emergence of the Omicron variant of coronavirus has so far not had much impact on shopper numbers in Primark stores.

"In terms of the Omicron variant we haven't really seen much of an effect on footfall," John Bason told Reuters today's trading update.