Dairy Crest has announced a 68% increase in pre-tax profits following a “major reshaping” of its UK business over the past year.

Profits were £64.6m for the year to March 31, up from £38.4m in the previous year.

The increase follows the £33m acquisition of Express Dairies, the sale of the dairy’s retail label cheese operations to First Milk for £58.3m and the acquisition of French and Italian spreads business St Hubert for £248m

Dairy Crest said it had seen good growth from key brands including Country Life Spreadable, St Hubert Omega 3 and flavoured milk brand FRijj.

But its branded and added-value cheese business showed the best performance, with Cathedral City showing a 20% sales increase.

The brand was now worth about £128m and had a 13% share of the total cheddar market, Dairy Crest said.

Despite the good performance in its cheese business, the dairy’s spreads business continued to suffer due to “challenging market conditions”.

Total branded sales of its UK spreads had fallen by 2%, with sales of St Ivel Gold down 26% and sales of Utterly Butterly down 12%.

Dairy Crest said the contribution from French and Italian spreads firm St Hubert had been encouraging so far and showed increasing market share in France.

Mark Allen, Dairy Crest chief executive, said the company planned to launch healthier variants of its leading brands, including Clover, later in the year.

“Trading at the start of the new financial year is in line with expectations,” he added.