UPDATE 1-UK's Cranswick sees strong FY performance after Christmas sales boom

(Adds shares, details on sales, licences)

Feb 4 (Reuters) - Meat processor Cranswick on Thursday said its annual performance would come in ahead of expectations, after more people feasted on its pork and chicken products while spending Christmas indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company, which owns farms and supplies pork and chicken to British grocery retailers, said its performance during the festive period was ahead of last year, with robust demand expected to continue for the rest of the year.

Cranswick’s shares were up 3% at 3,528 pence in early trade.

Coronavirus restrictions have shuttered the hospitality sector and led many people to work and study remotely, with many of the five million or so Britons who normally travel abroad for Christmas staying at home instead.

Supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury’s also reported higher sales for this period.

Cranswick, which supplied sandwiches and sausage rolls to UK’s front-line National Health Service (NHS) staff during the pandemic, in November raised its dividend for the year ending March 2021 by 12%.

However, the food producer said its Far East export sales were below last year as a greater proportion of the output was directed to UK customers. The temporary self-suspension of its China export licences for its Northern Ireland and Norfolk primary processing facilities also affected Far East export sales.

The company, which makes fresh pork, poultry, convenience and gourmet products, said the licence for the Northern Ireland facility was reinstated on Nov. 23 and it expects exports to resume from the Norfolk facility in the coming weeks.

Reporting by Tanishaa Nadkar in Bengaluru; Editing by Devika Syamnath