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Ailing Berisford plans new path

BERISFORD International plans a radical change of direction from a bombed-out property and commodities group to a manufacturing and distribution company.

It is considering a rights issue as a way of financing a series of acquisitions, said Peter Butler, the finance director who is leaving at the end of the year.

The strategy, based on the engineering expertise of Alan Bowkett, the chief executive, comes as Berisford seems finally to have resolved crises that brought the company to its knees.

Yesterday it reported pre-tax losses of pounds 22.3m, compared with a pounds 20.5m deficit before, for the year to 30 September. The loss before exceptional items, largely due to pounds 14.4m in property write-downs, was pounds 3.6m. But net debt of pounds 15m at the year-end will be eliminated by cash due from pounds 25m of disposals. The drain on cash from Rayner Coffee International has been settled with the winding up of the division, although it meant extraordinary charges of pounds 42.7m. Shareholders' funds stabilised at pounds 85m.

Berisford, once with market capitalisation of pounds 650m and chaired by Ephraim Margulies, is now a shell with small property and agricultural interests. But Mr Butler said he was confident the problems were contained and provided for. The task now was a series of friendly acquisitions built on a new strategy, he said.

He would not reveal the target companies, but said: 'By this time next year we will not be reporting about the same things we are today.' There is no dividend, and Mr Butler refused to say whether it was even a possibility next year.

Berisford sold pounds 15.6m of property. It has pulled out of New York, but is still trying to sell a 30 per cent share of a property development in Pasadena, California.

Turnover fell from pounds 694m to pounds 130m. Shares fell 0.5p to 18.5p.