Strong sales in the metals and food industries drove up overall manufacturing sales in Canada in January to $50.4 billion, an increase of 1.5 per cent over a month earlier.

The monthly gain was the biggest since February of last year and compared to a year ago, sales were up five per cent, Statistics Canada reported on Tuesday in its monthly manufacturing survey.

"Sales were up in 12 of 21 industries, representing about 46 per cent of the manufacturing sector sales in January," the agency said.

Primary metals drove much of the increase in sales. Sales in that industry rose eight per cent in January to $3.8 billion.

"The increase partly reflected higher sales by iron and steel mills and ferro-alloy manufacturers," Statistics Canada said. "Higher prices also contributed to the gain in the industry."

Continued increases in sales in the food manufacturing industry also helped contribute to the overall increase. Sales in this sector were up for the third time in months, rising 2.7 per cent to $7.7 billion.

Quebec sees biggest increase since 2011

In the category known as "miscellaneous," which refers to a range of products that don't fall into any other category and includes products such as medical equipment and supplies, jewelry, sporting goods, toys and office supplies, sales were up 20.3 per cent to $1.1 billion in January following an 11.8 per cent decrease in December.

Provincially, Quebec drove the sales advances, with a 4.4 per cent increase in January to total sales of $12.1 billion.

"The increase was the largest since January 2011," Statistics Canada said. "Sales rose 12.0 per cent in the primary metal industry, and production was up 14.8 per cent in the aerospace product and parts industry. Higher sales in the food industry also contributed to the provincial advance."

Alberta, B.C. and Manitoba also saw increases while Newfoundland and Labrador registered the biggest decline in the country, with manufacturing sales falling 14.5 per cent to $513 million.

Manufacturing inventories were also higher in January than a month earlier, rising 3.6 per cent to $71.4 billion.

"The gain in January reflected higher inventory levels in almost all manufacturing industries, led by the aerospace product and parts industry," Statistics Canada said.