Nestle CEO Paul Bulcke

Nestle beat analysts forecast with first quarter sales growth that showed a deep reliance on emerging markets as

The world's biggest food company said sales rose by 7.2 percent in the first three months of the year to 21.4bn Swiss francs (£13.5bn) thanks in large part to double-digit growth in so-called emerging markets. Sales to countries such as Brazil, China and India advanced at a 13 percent clip, compared to 3.1 percent sale growth in developed economies.

"In many developed markets where consumer confidence is low, the trading environment is subdued whilst in most emerging markets, conditions remain dynamic and rich in growth opportunities," said CEO Paul Bulcke.

Nestle was able to pass on base-price increases during the quarter, according to its statement, with 4.4 percent of the total sales increase linked to higher prices and 2.8 percent linked to volumes. Acquisition added sales growth of 3 percent. Currency fluctuations, however, reduced the overall sales growth pace to 5.6 percent, the Vevey-based group said Friday.

The group said it anticipates so-called organic sales growth, which excludes acquisitions, will be between 5 percent and 6 percent this year, with raw-material inflation of around 5 percent.

Nestle made no statements with respect to market speculation that it will bid as much as $10bn for the baby-food business unit of US drugmaker Pfizer next week. France's Danone is also said to be competiting for the unit.

Shares in the group were little changed Friday, at 57.30 francs, after touching a lifetime high of 57.5 Thursday.