Matthew Clark toasts £7m mix

Matthew Clark, the fast-expanding drinks group, has boosted half-year taxable profits from £3.4m to £7.2m, helped by a full contribution from the 1993 acquisitions of the Freetraders wholesale business and the Grants of St James's wine company.

The second half to the end of April will see a further uplift from the inclusion of the Gaymer cider business, bought for £105m in November. Analysts expect full-year profits of around £21m, compared with £10.3m in 1993/94.

Investors warmed to yesterday's results, which were accompanied by a 10.3 per cent rise in the interim dividend to 8p. Clark's shares gained 7p to 554p.

Peter Aikens, chief executive, who last week announced the closure of two production sites as part of the integration of Gaymer, said: "These results reflect the successful growth of our acquired businesses."

Several drinks brands performed strongly. Volume sales of Stowells of Chelsea wine boxes to pubs, clubs and restaurants rose by 19 per cent, and to off-licences by 7 per cent.

A revival of producers adding ginger to food and drinks helped to lift sales of Stone's Original Ginger Wine by 6 per cent. The Strathmore Spring Water range outperformed the market, with sales increasing by 25 per cent.

However, consumer preference for supermarket own labels and even cheaper tertiary labels brought a decline in sales of branded fortified wines.

The wholesale division is beginning to benefit from reorganisation, which has principally involved closing and relocating some depots and introducing a computer system to handle logistics across the Freetraders and Grants operations.

"The core wholesaling business of Freetraders continues to generate strong organic growth, reinforcing our view of the potential for non-brewery-owned, composite wholesalers," Mr Aikens said.

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