The sale of its United States ice cream business in January also boosted its bottom line, offsetting a sharp drop in demand from China, a statement said.
Nestle said overall organic sales grew by 4.3% from the same period a year earlier, driven by strong sales in North America and Europe, with Purina PetCare products seeing the most growth, and sales of prepared dishes and coffee products also surging.
Organic growth excludes the impact of recent acquisitions or divestments to focus on a company's core operations.
With the pandemic raging, Nestle's Health Science division posted double-digit growth, which the company said reflected "elevated demand for consumer and medical nutrition products."
Meanwhile, online sales surged by 29.4% and exceeded 10% of Nestle's total sales for the first time.
At the same time however, the company said the value of its sales declined by 6.2% to 20.8 billion Swiss francs ($21.3 billion, 19.7 billion euros), mainly due to the strength of the Swiss franc – seen as a safe haven for investors during the crisis – against other currencies.
Nestle highlighted the impact of divestitures, including the shedding of its US ice cream business to Froneri, which was completed on January 31 for $4 billion.
The sales increase in North America and Europe in March, Nestle said, was "partially supported by consumer stockpiling" linked to the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 190,000 lives worldwide.
At the same time, China, where the virus first began spreading late last year, posted a double-digit decline in organic growth, mainly "due to movement restrictions in place for almost the full quarter, limited consumer stockpiling, and relatively higher exposure to out-of-home channels," Nestle said.
That was a reference to sales to various outlets such as restaurants.
The company acknowledged that its "out-of-home and food service customers" had been severely affected by the crisis, and said it had set up a system to help them extend payment terms, suspend rental fees for coffee machines, and offer free products.
Following the news, the company saw its share price rise nearly 3% in mid-afternoon trading, as the Swiss stock exchange's main SMI index inched up 0.2%. – Rappler.com