UPDATE 1-Barry Callebaut sticks to guidance despite quarterly sales fall

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ZURICH, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Swiss chocolate maker Barry Callebaut said it was seeing a gradual recovery and confirmed its mid-term guidance on Wednesday after the COVID-19 pandemic hit sales volumes in the three months to the end of November.

Chocolate makers are grappling with a slowdown in global demand as the COVID-19 pandemic reduces impulse purchases, out-of-home consumption and gift giving.

Barry Callebaut’s sales volumes fell 4.3% in the company’s first quarter to Nov. 30, the same rate of decline seen in the previous quarter, the Zurich-based group said in a statement.

It said sales volumes in the chocolate business had improved and its gourmet unit that supplies restaurants and chefs was also recovering, while cocoa sales declined, partially due to lower cocoa bean prices.

“In still volatile markets, we continue to find new ways of doing business and seize opportunities while maintaining strict cost discipline. We see a gradual recovery,” said the company that supplies chocolate to big groups like Mondelez and Hershey.

It confirmed its target for average volume growth of 5-7% per year for the current and the next two fiscal years.

Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by Michael Shields