2 Sisters still feels the pain from horsemeat scandal

THE maker of Fox’s biscuits and Goodfella’s pizza felt the continued squeeze from the horsemeat scandal and cash-strapped shoppers as it slumped to an annual loss.

Poultry and ready meals giant 2 Sisters Food Group said profits were also eroded by its purchase of loss-making chicken, beef and lamb operations from Dutch food group Vion, as well as currency swings and higher ingredient prices.

The Birmingham-based group, owned by entrepreneur Ranjit Singh Boparan, reported losses of £33.5m in the year to the end of July after exceptional items, interest and tax. That compared with profits of £42.5m a year earlier.

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Like-for-like sales grew 5.6 per cent to £2.4bn. Including acquisitions, total sales surged 23.3 per cent to £2.9bn, as the group consolidated its position as one of Britain’s biggest food producers.

2 Sisters has been on a debt-fuelled growth spurt since buying Yorkshire-based Goodfella’s pizza maker Northern Foods for £342m in 2011.

But it said the market saw ready meal sales plunge by as much as 40 per cent when the horsemeat scandal emerged early this year, after traces of horse DNA were found in frozen beefburgers sold in Tesco, Iceland, Aldi and Lidl.

That hurt sales in its chilled food division, which makes ready meals for chains including Marks & Spencer, even though no traces of horsemeat were found in its products.

2 Sisters warned harsh conditions are set to continue as the ready meals market recovers slowly and household budgets remain under pressure.

It continues to close plants to slash costs, and shut a factory in Leicester in June and earlier this month announced the closure of a roast chicken site in Suffolk, with 750 jobs going in total.

Mr Boparan said: “Trading conditions have been very tough with inflation impacting cash-squeezed consumers and the impact of the horsemeat scandal on the food sector.

“We expect the economic environment to remain tough and we will work with our customers to deliver quality and value to consumers, invest in our brands, in innovation and our people, and improve efficiency.”

The group is launching about 100 new traditional meals, ranging from roast beef to chilli con carne, to rebuild the ready meals sector.

And it said it aims to return the Vion business, which earned sales of £365m under its 20 weeks of ownership, to profit next year.

Mr Boparan bought 11 poultry, beef and lamb processing sites from Vion in March after the Dutch group decided to quit the UK.

No price was put on the deal, but it was thought to be in the low tens of millions of pounds.

2 Sisters has multiple sites across the UK, including the Fox’s biscuits factory in Batley and Pennines Food in Sheffield.