Upmarket sausage and bacon producer Cranswick said exports to the Far East have shot up 16 per cent, boosted by strong demand for outdoor, premium pork from leading Asian countries.
Hull-based Cranswick also reported a surge in exports after African swine fever decimated pig herds in Asia.
Cranswick’s chief executive Adam Couch said: “It’s less to do with African swine fever. The full effect of that won’t be felt until towards the latter end of this year.
“It’s more to do with the reach of products we’ve got. We’ve got a strong reach into the Japanese restaurant trade. We’re probably shipping out 200 to 300 tonnes of products on a monthly basis, into Japan in particular.
“It’s very much at the premium end of the market place. We’ve got a reach both into Taiwan, South Korea, and this year we’ll have had a record year in to Australia.”
In the past, Cranswick has shipped cuts that British consumers tend to spurn such as offal, but now there is a demand for premium cuts such as shoulder and belly meat.
“It has to be outdoor reared and it has to be premium,” said Mr Couch.
The group has also started shipping ribs to Canada where demand is growing rapidly.
Cranswick’s revenue slipped 1.9 per cent to £1.44bn in the year to March 31 as the company faced “a backdrop of highly competitive market conditions and ongoing, Brexit-related, political and economic uncertainty”.
Pre-tax profits also marginally declined over the period, falling to £86.5m from £88m in the previous year.
Mr Couch said: “Profits are down due to 53rd week. It’s actually 2 per cent up on a like-for-like basis.
“You’ve got to put it in context of stellar growth we’ve had in the proceeding three years. This year is a pause for breath, a year of consolidation as opposed to anything too negative on that front.”
The group’s poultry arm delivered 18 per cent year-on-year sales growth, with sales of “ready to eat” chicken growing faster than the wider meat sector.
Cranswick spent a record £79m on capital expenditure last year to add capacity, extend capability and drive efficiencies.
“There is a lot of capex going on around the parish,” said Mr Couch.
“We won a large cooked meat business with M&S. That’s facilitated an £11m investment in our Hull facility. Given the Brexit uncertainty, it suggests we still have a lot of confidence in the sector.“
The group is expected to spend around £100m on capital expenditure this year.
Asked whether a no-deal Brexit could hit UK food standards, Mr Couch said: “I have many concerns over Brexit, but the UK is well respected regarding its food standards. We are the envy of the world. Our standards in factories are extremely high.
"It’s very much in our benefit that we maintain the highest standards, so I wouldn’t have a concern about UK standards slipping.”
An area that Brexit has affected is Cranswick’s access to European workers.
“Bearing in mind 65 per cent of our workforce are from Central Europe, particularly from Poland and Romania, labour is our major concern,” said Mr Couch.
Analyst Darren Shirley at Shore Capital said: “After a three year period of quite remarkably rapid expansion from Cranswick, 2019 was one that was always going to be one of consolidation, as billed by the group in early 2018, and so it came to pass.
“Indeed, sustained uncertainty in the British political scene, so depressing the consumers’ mood, African Swine Fever and no shortage of change within and between the respective channels Cranswick serves has made for challenges as well as opportunities to see through.
“We continue to believe Cranswick is very well positioned, however, to deliver over the medium to long term.”
Cranswick has removed 703 tonnes of plastic from across the group, just 12 months after it pledged to lead the fight against plastic waste.
As part of its Second Nature sustainability strategy, Cranswick has eliminated PVC from all packaging and is investing in machinery to manage the change from non-recycled to recyclable plastics.
It has updated all its trays to contain a minimum of 65 per cent recycled content and is in the process of changing trays to be 100 per centrecyclable.
Mr Couch said: "We call it Second Nature, but it's got real economic benefits as well.
"We found a huge amount of savings as a result of it. We wouldn't have had some of the success in business wins without doing some of this much needed work."