By Olivia Cooper

STRONG competition has squeezed margins, but Robert Wiseman Dairies has maintained first-half profits at a similar level to last year.

Pre-tax profit was 9.5m in the six months to September 29, while sales increased by 22%, to 178.5m, helped by the purchase of Bristol-based Lordswood Dairies in May.

“Competition for supermarket business is intense, and, as a result, margins will remain under pressure,” says chairman Alan Wiseman.

But the new dairy processing plant at Droitwich Spa has already won new business from Somerfield and Safeway, and Mr Wiseman expects further growth in the new year.

The board has declared an interim dividend of 1.5p/share, which will be paid to shareholders on February 14 2002.

Express Dairies interim report was also released earlier in the week, showing a near-halving of first-half profits.

Chairman Lord Haskins blames new capacity in an already oversupplied market, with declining doorstep deliveries adding to the losses.

Pre-tax profit fell 43% to 13.3m, while turnover increased by 1%, to 437m.