RFG Holdings, the maker of Bull Brand corned meat and Bisto gravies, says sales spiked by a fifth in March as SA consumers stocked up on canned goods ahead of the Covid-19 lockdown.

RFG, formerly known as Rhodes Food Group, said it has continued to see robust demand for long-life products, but is bracing for economic weakness in SA in coming months.

Strong demand for canned goods helped boost group turnover by almost double digits to R2.9bn in its six months to March 29, but the pandemic hit canned fruit exports to China, while a rapid weakening of the rand cost the group R47.6m.

As a result, profit after tax declined 3% to R77.8m.

CEO Bruce Henderson said the regional business, which accounts for 84% of group revenue, grew volumes by 6% and has seen sustained higher demand for canned goods during the first seven weeks of lockdown.

In the six months to March, long-life food sales increased by 12.6%. Growth was reported in fruit juices and canned vegetables and particularly strong sales in canned vegetables and meat products in March before the start of the lockdown, the group said.

Henderson said there was a continuing uplift in demand for long-life products during the lockdown. Sales of canned fruit, vegetables and meat have been particularly strong, and production has been increased to meet the demand.

RFG said it was focusing on cash preservation through tighter cost management, reviewing non-critical expenditure and maximising exports to strengthen cash flows.