Branston pickle-to-Bird's custard group Premier Foods is looking to the launch of new brands to help offset troubles at its potatoes business.

The group, which also produces Typhoo tea and Hartley's jams, said it was confident of progress over the second half of the year after posting a 5.4 per cent rise in operating profits in the six months to July 2.

The improvement to £41.1 million came despite a fall in sales from continuing operations, as MBM - the company's business supplying bagged potatoes to retailers and wholesalers - suffered a drop in turnover of 34.4 per cent to £58.3 million.

Premier blamed the sharp decline on the lower market price of potatoes.

"This is a business we maybe wouldn't have started with, but the reality is we own it and we've got to sort it out," chief executive Robert Schofield said.

However Mr Schofield said he was "pretty confident" the unit's fortunes would improve next year after three of its six packaging plants were closed.

Premier said its grocery business remained on track with the mood helped by new products launched this year under the brands of Ambrosia, Branston, Loyd Grossman and Hartley's jam.

Premier has agreed to pay £5.5 million for Monument (GB), a rival supplier of fresh vegetables, as supermarkets look to rationalise their supply chain by cutting supplier numbers.

Last year it paid US food giant Kraft £70 million for its Bird's custard and Angel Delight businesses and in June paid £172 million for Marlow Foods, owner of the UK's best-selling meatalternative brand, Quorn.

Meanwhile, Premier insists it does not expect any material financial impact from the product recall involving Sudan 1 dye.

A 4.75 pence per share interim dividend was announced.