Fresca profits up 30% in 2007/08

Fresca Group has reported a 30 per cent increase in profits during the 2007/08 financial year - despite tough trading conditions.

Executive chairman Christopher Mack revealed in its annual report that the group, which is made up of some eight different fresh produce businesses including Thanet Earth, Mack Wholesale and Jack Buck Growers, had profits before tax of £11.5m on a group turnover of £296.6m.

The group's two joint ventures - Manor Fresh and MMG Citrus, which are 50 per cent owned by Fresca - were excluded from this figure as turnover including share of joint ventures was £350,719m, slightly down from £354,418m last year.

This is in part because Manor Fresh, which during the 2007/08 financial year was in its second year of trading and which supplies Marks & Spencer with all of its potatoes, was badly affected by the unreliable British weather.

Mack said: "Trading during the first part of the financial year has been tough. Clearly, we and our growers have been affected by the dramatic increase in energy prices. In addition, the unpredictable weather patterns that are now seemingly the norm have led to a number of crop shortages.

"On top of all this, we have experienced a significant depreciation in the value of sterling against the euro and all of these factors have pushed up the costs of our products. Overlying this, the state of the UK economy and the crisis in consumer confidence has meant there is considerable pressure to do all we can to keep retail prices down.

"Our challenge is not only to sustain the profitability of our own business but to do so we have to protect that of our customers and growers alike."

He added: "Having said this, Fresca continues to be well-placed to weather the economic uncertainty that the UK is now facing."

Fresca's biggest business, with sales of some £178m, was Mack Multiples - which trades bananas, grapes, soft fruit, stone fruit, salads and vegetables.

Its success has been helped by its new berry business, which supplies fresh berries to retailers. To support this, the group has invested in the production of English strawberries and earlier this year purchased 40 per cent of Essex-based Wallings Nurseries.

- Thanet Earth - a seven-glasshouse site that is being built in Kent to create the UK's largest production facility for tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers - should see its first planting this autumn, with more next spring. A Fresca representative said: "Our partner, Red Star, is set to begin production of tomatoes early in 2009, with A&A growing cucumbers and Rainbow growing peppers soon after."

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