Albert Fisher disappoints with profits fall of pounds 3m

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The Independent Online
ALBERT Fisher's increasing drive into value-added brands, such as salads and prepared vegetables, failed to stop it disappointing the City with annual operating profits from continuing businesses down pounds 3m to pounds 38.7m.

Produce price falls in North America, which led to operating profits there declining from pounds 11.6m to pounds 6.4m, offset a good performance from European fresh produce, where profits rose more than pounds 4m to pounds 10.7m.

In the year to end-August Fisher saw an average 35 cents wiped off each case of fresh food it delivered in the US. The average price of a case of iceberg lettuce fell nearly dollars 3 to dollars 5.20. Apples fell from dollars 11.28 a case to dollars 10.36, and broccoli from dollars 6.75 to dollars 5.13.

The company said this price deflation and an oversupply of produce combined to create a tough trading climate, but it was combating this by reducing dependence on commodity items and increasingly moving into value-added fresh produce.

Stephen Walls, chairman and chief executive, said the European food processing activities held their own, where operating profits of pounds 13.5m compared with a restated pounds 13.7m last time.

This division is to focus on sauces and dressings for the retail and food-service sectors, which the company sees as a growth area.

Fisher's European seafood arm, now one of the biggest seafood businesses in Europe following the recent purchases of Rahbek and Macfish, saw profits dip pounds 2m to pounds 8.1m. The results of the cockle and mussel businesses could not emulate last year's exceptional performance.

Overall taxable profits rose from pounds 26.9m to pounds 34.8m, although these were flattered by one-off charges last time of pounds 15.4m compared with pounds 600,000 this time.

Fisher's final dividend of 1.90p makes a full-year payout of 3.71p (3.67p), which is again uncovered by earnings per share of 3.34p. Mr Walls also revealed the group would seek approval from shareholders at the forthcoming annual meeting for permission to buy back up to 10 per cent of Fisher's shares.

However, he said the group had no plans to do so, that seeking permission was common, 'and people should not read too much into it'.

The shares fell 3p to 44p.

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