Supermarket sales bolster Dairy Crest

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The Independent Online
The shake-up in the milk industry has boosted fortunes at Dairy Crest, the milk and cheese group tied to the Milk Marketing Board before its abolition last November.

After 2,000 job losses at Unigate and large write-offs at Northern Foods, Dairy Crest bucked the trend by announcing pre-tax profits up from pounds 2.8m to pounds 22.1m in the year to March helped by lower exceptional costs during the year. Operating profits declined from pounds 31.9m to pounds 29.8m due to declining door-step deliveries of milk. However, the company has balanced that by increasing milk sales to supermarkets.

Dairy Crest says it remains prepared for a stock market listing, but the decision lies in the hands of the Residual Milk Marketing Board, the body established to oversee the winding up of the MMB and its replacement by Milk Marque. Dairy Crest had hoped to seek a stock market listing last year but dropped the plans after the de-regulation of the market.

Under the old system, Dairy Crest had to buy excess supply from farmers. The company is now free to decide its own purchasing levels.

It has been undergoing a wide-ranging re-structuring which has included axing 18 plants and 11,000 jobs in five years. The shake-up is now almost complete and Dairy Crest - Britain's largest producer of Cheddar cheese - is concentrating on its consumer foods division, where profits increased from pounds 15.4 to pounds 16.9m.

Profits in the food services division fell from pounds 16.5m to pounds 13m, damaged by the fall in doorstep deliveries and a 15 per cent rise in milk prices.

Dairy Crest paid a pounds 35.7m dividend to the RMMC. A float would guarantee a payout to the 29,000 farmers who own the group.

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