ZURICH - Food giant Nestle confirmed organic sales should grow more than 3.6% this year after strong demand for coffee, dairy and petcare products boosted growth in the first quarter.

The world's biggest food group has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic well so far as consumers locked up at home bought more packaged foods for themselves and their pets.

It also expanded ecommerce and its health science portfolio as consumers bought more online and worried about their health.

Organic sales increased by 7.7%, versus 4.3% in the year-ago period, the maker of KitKat chocolate bars and Nescafe instant coffee said in a statement on Thursday. This was ahead of a forecast for 3.3% organic growth in a company-compiled consensus.

"Retail sales saw solid growth and out-of-home channels saw signs of improvement. We confirm our guidance for the year and our mid-term outlook for sustained mid single-digit organic growth," Chief Executive Mark Schneider said in the statement.

Organic growth stood at 7.2% in the Americas, at 4.4% in Europe and at 9.1% in Asia, Nestle said. Asia was in negative territory in the year-ago period as the pandemic hit there first.

In terms of categories, petcare was up 8.7%, powdered and liquid beverages including coffee rose 9.9%, and dairy increased 15.7%. Nutrition and health science fell 0.5%, dragged down by nutrition.

(Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz Editing by Riham Alkousaa and Michael Shields) ((silke.koltrowitz@thomsonreuters.com; +41 41 528 3638;))