Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, saw its highest sales in five years during the first quarter of 2020, thanks to consumers stockpiling in the face of COVID-19 lockdowns.

Sales in North America and Europe were especially strong in March, the company said. Overall, sales for the first three months were up 4.3%, and included growth of 14% in sales of pet food.

French food giant Danone also posted higher Q1 sales as consumers stocked up on dairy, plant-based and nutrition products in particular. Sales for the first three months of the year were up 3.7% to €6.24 billion on the same period the previous year. Like Nestlé, the brand said sales were strongest in North America and Europe with demand lifted by widespread lockdowns.

But Danone, the world’s biggest maker of yoghurt, warned Q2 would see some “de-stocking” on the part of consumers. Nestlé also warned against “getting carried away” by the Q1 sales, Reuters reported, as the market is volatile and consumers’ buying habits are changing.

Meanwhile, Nestlé revealed the pandemic was driving consumers not only to stock up on basics, but also to return to what had been until recently been unfashionable frozen foods, the Financial Times reported.

“If you want to be prepared for meals taken at home, switching to more frozen meals makes sense. That will now deepen alongside the crisis,” Mark Schneider, Nestlé’s chief executive, told the FT.

There will be a recession as a result of the pandemic, he said, and the “notion of value and budget-conscious eating will be important”.

The company, he said, had already planned for an uptick in frozen food sales, even before the pandemic. They saw low-digit growth in 2019 and none the year before, but were “primed for a rebound”, Schneider claimed.

“There is a quality aspect and a healthy eating aspect that these days you can get through frozen meals, which is different from what people may have in the back of their minds from the 1990s when frozen food stood for comfort,” he said.

“Budget-conscious millennials, we believe, will show a renewed interest in the healthier side of frozen food,” Schneider added.

Sourced from Reuters, Financial Times, Danone