Park Food celebrates bumper season for hampers

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The Independent Online
Park Food Group, the UK's leading packer of Christmas hampers, enjoyed a record Christmas. The amount spent by customers on Park mail-order hampers grew by 11.2 per cent and turnover by 18.5 per cent.

The number of agents who collect weekly payments from customers rose by 10.2 per cent.

Park's pre-tax loss in the seasonally quiet first half to 30 September rose slightly to £4.99m from £4.74m. The interim dividend was raised by 20 per cent to 1p per share.

Cash balances peaked in November at £75m, compared with £62m the previous year. Some 90,000 agents, mainly housewives, collect money from customers through the year. Park then starts to buy stocks and cash balances fall. Analysts expect balances to drop to a low of £20m-£30m this month.

Peter Johnson, chairman and managing director, believes there is plenty of room for growth in sales as only 3 million out of a target 13 million households buy hampers. The acquisition of Heritage Hampers last June pushed up Park Food's market share to 40 per cent.

Mr Johnson said the company was not looking for more acquisitions at present. A year ago it bought Handling Solutions, which runs promotions and customer-loyalty and direct marketing programmes. Park is also investing in Project Q, a hi-tech process to manufacture a low-calorie potato chip that can be deep-fried in 60 seconds. Park Food has bought the patent from a scientist formerly employed by McCain of Canada, which makes oven-ready chips.

Analysts expect Park will make full-year profits before tax of £15m against £11.8m last year. The shares fell 5p to 123p.