Northern looks for Goodfella's boost

LEEDS-based Northern Foods promised a boost for its Goodfella's frozen pizza range today after unveiling plans for new recipes and a TV-backed brand relaunch.

The multi-million pound campaign, which will begin next month, comes as Goodfella's looks to close the gap on market leader Chicago Town.

Northern said its frozen foods division, which includes Goodfella's, was now focused on achieving profitable sales growth after its recent decision to exit low margin business areas, such as supermarket own-label pies.

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This shift in strategy meant like-for-like sales in the final quarter of its financial year were down 1.8%, although the figure for the year as a whole still increased by 1%.

Northern said the improvement reflected solid trading in sandwiches and salads, while its Fox's brand moved into second place in the biscuits market with a 10.7% share. According to industry figures, the label is ahead of Nestle and Wagon Wheels firm Burton's.

Fox's has seen a revival in its sales performance after a television and online advertising campaign based around cartoon character Vinnie, a cross between a panda and a dog.

Northern said bakery sales lifted 4.1% in the past 14 weeks, leading to a 3% rise for the financial year.

The change in strategy in frozen foods meant revenues for the division were down 11.7% in the quarter and by 9.3% across the year.

In chilled foods, fourth quarter revenues were ahead 2.1% after continued solid trading in salads and sandwiches. The rate is the slowest of the four quarters of the year, which Northern said reflected tough conditions in the ready meals market.

The division recently secured a long term contract to supply British Airways on its short haul routes from Heathrow, while it is also due to start supplying sandwiches to Costa Coffee this summer.

Overall, chief executive Stefan Barden said the company continued to trade solidly in the face of tough trading conditions.

He added: "We continue to invest for the future, with investment in our brands, our products and our factory capabilities."

Northern Foods shares were marginally higher today.

Investec Securities said it expected profits to be slightly lower this year - down 1 million to 38 million - due to higher interest charges.