9 November 2001

Large jump in profits for ABF

ASSOCIATED British Foods, the UKs biggest buyer of agricultural produce, has reported a sharp increase in profits for its primary food and agriculture business after a year of restructuring.

Operating profits in the sector, which includes British Sugar, Allied Grain and ABNA, the feed and grain trading arm, rose almost 10% to £172m in the year ending Sept 15, 2001, on sales which rose by 3.6% to £1.87bn.

Due to increasing complexity and overlap between constituent companies, it is not possible to break down the figures further, said an ABF spokesman.

However, British Sugars UK operation is understood to have contributed just under half of ABFs total operating profit, which rose 3% to £351m on marginally increased sales of £4.43bn. This includes results from ingredient and retail businesses in the UK and abroad.

British Sugar "virtually maintained" last years profit level, said chairman Harry Bailey. This was despite a £10m charge for closing three factories. Ipswich and Bardney have gone and Kidderminster is due to shut its doors at the end of this season.

A lower sugar crop (1.325m tonnes of sugar were processed) and higher energy costs also had an impact on the figure, added chief executive Peter Jackson. "But the higher quality of the crop, the skill of the growers in harvesting in extremely wet conditions and excellent factory performances mostly offset the effect of higher costs."

Agriculture group ABNA increased profit and share of the poultry and pig markets. The integration of Fishers and ABN resulting in the closure of Cranswick Mill helped boost performance.

Mr Jackson added that Allied Grain significantly increased overall market share, despite a reduction in seed and fertiliser markets. &#42