Fine Foods keeps payout off menu for now

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The Independent Online
NORTHUMBRIAN Fine Foods continues to recover but investors will have wait for a dividend, last paid two years ago, writes John Shepherd.

Henry Roberts, chief executive, said dealing with the acquisition of Jesse Oldfield, baker of 'Bronte' Christmas cakes, took precedence over addressing the deficit on distributable reserves that prevents dividends being paid.

Taxable profits of pounds 212,000 were made in the year to March, in contrast with the pounds 5.7m lost in 1992/3.

Sales by continuing businesses, including a snack food manufacturer in Gateshead and the Biscuits for the Connoisseur distribution arm, rose from pounds 13.6m to pounds 15.9m.

Profits benefited from the steady erosion of debt that has seen interest charges drop from pounds 661,000 to pounds 303,000. Debt as a percentage of shareholders' funds fell from 100 to 85 per cent.

Losses have been cut to an unspecified amount at Gateshead. The product mix has changed, with own-label products for multiple grocers claiming 50 per cent of sales against 30 per cent in 1992.

The distribution business reached its profit targets despite its mainstay small-corner shop customers suffering from aggressive pricing by supermarkets.

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