Benchmark prioritises staff safety during outbreak

Salmon broodstock at a farming facilitySalmon broodstock at a farming facility
Salmon broodstock at a farming facility | other
Benchmark Holdings, the aquaculture health, nutrition and genetics business, said it is too early to assess the coronavirus impact in the current financial year, but it anticipates a negative impact on earnings.

The Sheffield-based firm has put in place a business continuity plan using remote working facilities, and has adapted shift patterns and safety procedures at manufacturing sites worldwide.

The group said its key priority in these unprecedented times is the health and safety of its employees, customers and partners.

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It said it has a strong liquidity position with around £64m in cash and undrawn facilities, well within covenant levels. It is also taking action to conserve cash through the crisis.

Trading in genetics has not been materially affected by Covid-19, but Benchmark expects a significant impact in advanced nutrition as a result of reduced consumption leading to lower levels of production and disruption to logistics.

Biotech firm Benchmark Holdings develops vaccines to keep fish healthy rather than using antibiotics to treat disease. The firm said it operates in the essential sustainable global food production sector which, while experiencing short term challenges from Covid-19, continues to have strong fundamentals.

The three year salmon production cycle means that demand for salmon eggs is less affected by the short term impact from Covid-19 on the salmon sector, which is experiencing weaker demand from the catering industry, partially offset by retail demand, as well as challenging logistics to Asia and US.

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In advanced nutrition, global shrimp consumption has dropped, with a consequent reduction in production in most markets.

The firm said there are cautious signs of a potential recovery in China, although the effect will be slowed by a backlog of shrimp stocks from prior months.

Demand for sea bass and bream in Europe and in the US has been significantly hit, leading to a reduction in production across all markets which could deteriorate if European borders close. The firm said there is ongoing uncertainty and it expects a significant impact from Covid-19 on the division.

The group is taking a number of actions to protect the health and wellbeing of its staff, to continue to supply and service its customers, and to protect cash and maintain headroom during this period of uncertainty.

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The group has implemented a business continuity plan to manage all parts of the business safely, whilst continuing to support customers.

It has adapted shift patterns at manufacturing sites worldwide to reduce employee exposure and it has also enhanced safety procedures such as deep cleaning.

Benchmark's executive chairman Peter George said: "During these difficult times, the group's key priority is to protect our employees and customers’ interests whilst at the same time ensuring our financial position remains resilient.

"We operate in the essential sustainable global food production sector which, while experiencing short term challenges from Covid-19, continues to have strong fundamentals.

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"We remain confident in our strategy for the business for the long term including the prospects for the commercial launch of BMK08 and CleanTreat."

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