Irish food group Greencore has described 2004 as another year of good progress for the company.

Greencore, whose main businesses are convenience foods and food ingredients, said profit before tax grew by 8% and adjusted earnings per share grew by 6% in 2004 despite a time lag in recovering an unusually high level of raw material cost increases in the convenience food categories.

Net debt at the end of September 2004 was €387m (US$495.0m), €43m below the level of September 2003, and €49m lower when the impact of currency translation is excluded.

Greencore said that during the year it had continued to sharpen its focus on its convenience food activities with the disposal of its loss-making bread business, Rathbones, and its interest in its sugar distribution associate, James Budgett.

The company said trading in the year to date has been satisfactory and it anticipates another successful year in 2005.

"The quality of the group's market leading positions, coupled with the ongoing growth in its convenience food categories, a relentless focus on its cost base and the strong cash generative nature of its portfolio have offset the challenging market conditions which many of the group's businesses are facing," Greencore added.