A package of international firms that Associated British Foods bought for £630 million cash last year from the Australian Burns Philp group has delivered the goods.

It contributed operating profits of £33 million in its first half-year with ABF.

At the same time, ABF's investment income from its cash pile dipped by only £3 million.

ABF still finished the six months to March 5 with £464 million of clear cash and confirmed it is still on the look-out for more acquisitions in a strategic drive to lessen its dependence on its beet sugar subsidiary British Sugar and develop its international presence.

"There is quite a lot around and we will have a look at it," said George Weston, the new chief executive.

The French Danone is thought to be looking for a buyer for HP Foods, maker of HP and Lee & Perrins sauces.

Yesterday ABF reported underlying half-time profits 16 per cent ahead at £268 million on sales 18 per cent higher at £252 million.

The interim dividend is raised by 14 per cent to 6.0p.

After slipping 81/2p yesterday to 758p, the shares are heading for a yield of 2.2 per cent.

Mr Weston expects good growth in operating profit over the rest of its year, but warned the markets in which the company operates remain "demanding".

He remains confident of matching City analysts' fullyear underlying profit expectations of around £590 million.

The acquisitions helped ABF's grocery division deliver a 23 per cent rise in operating profit to £86 million on sales up 6 . 5 per cent to £1.244 billion.

It also owns the Primark discount clothing chain, whose operating profit rose by 18 per cent to £59 million on sales up 12 per cent to £448 million. Primark's same-store sales climbed six per cent.

"The market is moving towards discount retailing and Primark offers incredible value," Mr Weston said.

He indicated that ABF could be interested in buying some stores from Littlewoods, which has said it is closing up to 126 shops. In February ABF agreed to buy six stores from the administrators of the collapsed store chain Allders.