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Appetite for a roast leads to beefy sales for Shropshire firm

South Shropshire | Business | Published:

Cool spring weather created a bump in demand for roast dinner ingredients, helping boost sales for Premier Foods.

Bisto gravy, Paxo stuffing and custard and rice pudding brand Ambrosia were all hotly in demand over the spring and summer, the company said.

The business, which is searching for a new chief executive and chairman as it attempts to put a terrible year behind it, said sales in the 13 weeks to June 29 were up 1.1 per cent on a year ago, and by 2.6 per cent in the UK.

A subsidiary of Premier – Knighton Foods – runs a powdered foods factory on the Shropshire-Staffordshire border at Knighton, where it makes products such as Angel Delight.

In a statement the company said: “The flavourings and seasonings category was strong, growing over 10 per cent compared to the prior year due to a softer comparative period in 2018 when the UK experienced exceptionally warm weather.

“Accordingly, Bisto and Paxo both delivered strong revenue growth and market share gains in the quarter. Ambrosia also benefited from relatively cooler weather in June, gaining share in a growing category.”

But there was bad news in the international business, with sales falling 18 per cent. Premier also warned that Brexit is hitting business, following heavy stockpiling prior to the original deadline in March.

Knighton Foods suffered as customers delisted its products, but the company insists this was offset by non-branded groceries, which saw sales up 2.2 per cent.

Nevertheless, sales of non-branded sweet treats plunged 37.2 per cent.

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The last year has been tough for Premier, following pressure from activist investors to overhaul the business.

Former chief executive Gavin Darby stepped down in January, after narrowly avoiding a defeat for re-election at the company’s annual shareholder meeting a year ago.

But the board has been criticised for giving him an £863,000 pay-off, with shareholder advisory groups recommending investors vote down the plan in a year that saw the company reveal pre-tax losses of £42.7 million.

In February, the company said it would review its portfolio of products, and could look to sell some of its famous brands.

Premier Foods is exploring a potential sale of Mr Kipling as it presses ahead with a review under pressure from activist shareholders.

Selling Mr Kipling, part of a larder of brands that also includes Angel Delight and Bisto gravy, is one of several options under consideration by the consumer goods group, which embarked on a self-evaluation exercise in February.

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