UK: Sugar, Primark sweeten Associated British Foods Q1

By Chris Mercer | 17 January 2013

  • Q1 sales up 10%, ahead of expectations
  • Sugar, feed sales rise
  • Grocery flat
ABF weathers tough trading in grocery

ABF weathers tough trading in grocery

Higher sugar sales and strong growth at the Primark clothes retailer helped Associated British Foods to insulate itself against tough conditions in the UK food grocery market in its first fiscal quarter.

For the 16 weeks to 5 January, Associated British Foods (ABF) said today (17 January) that net sales rose by 10% on the same period of last year. It did not release sales amounts.

ABF was particularly pleased with Primark's performance, with the clothes retailer seeing sales rise by 25% over the period. There was also a 12% rise in sugar sales and a 3% increase in the group's agriculture division, thanks to higher demand for feed and feed enzyme.

Those business units helped to offset tougher conditions in grocery, where sales were flat on the previous year. Grocery sales actually declined in Australia, but were held up elsewhere by Twinings Ovaltine and higher bread prices.

In ingredients, sales were also level with the same period of the prior year.

On its bottom line, ABF management said that operating cashflow improved during the period due to higher profits.

In its outlook, the firm said: "As previously indicated, the full year result for AB Sugar is expected to be lower than last year but we anticipate that this will be more than offset by growth at Primark and some recovery in grocery.

"In light of the group’s current performance we now expect to make further progress in adjusted operating profit for the full year, with the improvement heavily weighted towards the first half."

Show the press release

Interim management statement

17 January 2013

Associated British Foods plc today issues an interim management statement for the 16 weeks to 5 January 2013, in accordance with the requirements of the UK Listing Authority’s Disclosure and Transparency rules.

Highlights

  • Group revenue up 10%
  • Outstanding sales performance from Primark
  • Trading for the remaining businesses in line with expectations

Trading performance

Group revenue for the first 16 weeks was 10% ahead of last year. Revenue growth by business segment was:

 

16 weeks to 5 January 2013

Sugar

12%

Agriculture

3%

Grocery

level

Ingredients

level

Retail

25%

 

 

Total group

10%

Sterling has strengthened against all of our principal foreign currencies, compared with the first quarter last year, with the exception of the Australian dollar which is unchanged. The increase in revenue for the group on a constant currency basis was 13%.

Sugar

Revenues were 12% ahead of last year.

UK revenues in the period were ahead of last year with higher sales volumes compared with last year’s abnormally low level, and marginally higher sugar prices. Poor growing conditions during 2012 resulted in a lower beet yield and sugar content. As a consequence the UK campaign started later and will have lower factory throughputs to allow for a slower filtration process. Sugar production for the current year is estimated at 1.13 million tonnes compared with last year’s 1.32 million tonnes. Profit for the current year is expected to be lower than last year as a consequence of the lower production, higher beet cost and a weaker euro. The Vivergo bioethanol plant is now operational.

In Spain, heavy rains delayed planting in the south which is expected to reduce the size of the crop. We nevertheless expect to achieve overall quota sugar production volume in the current financial year but profit will be lower both because of a higher beet cost and this year’s sales including a higher proportion of lower-margin, refined cane sugar.

Illovo’s revenues benefited from higher production volumes in South Africa, with increased cane yields and sugar content, and with extended campaigns in Zambia and Swaziland. As a result we expect profit for the full year to be ahead of last year.

Sales volumes in China were unusually low last year and, as a result, this year’s revenues were ahead despite lower prices. Production campaigns are under way and a larger cane crop is expected to increase sugar production in the south ahead of last year. Sugar production in the north is expected to be in line with that achieved last year, with the new Zhangbei factory fully commissioned. For the full year, sugar profitability is expected to be well below last year as a result of much lower sugar prices.

Agriculture

Revenue was 3% ahead of last year driven by UK feed sales and AB Vista. Although sugar beet feed volumes in the period were ahead of last year, they are likely to be constrained for the rest of the year by the smaller UK beet crop. AB Vista’s feed enzyme business continued to make good progress particularly supported by the success of the recently launched Quantum Blue. China revenues were below last year with shortfalls resulting from lower demand for pig and poultry feed. Frontier traded at similar levels to last year.

Grocery

Revenue was level with last year. Twinings Ovaltine again performed well with good growth for tea in the UK and the US and for Ovaltine in its developing markets. Sales by the UK grocery businesses were in line with last year and Allied Bakeries recovered higher wheat costs through bread price increases. Sales declined at George Weston Foods in Australia but the business secured price increases for its Tip Top bread range at the end of the period. Progress was made in the Don KRC meat business with higher volumes and improved cost control. Revenue at ACH was level with last year. Grocery profit for the full year is expected to be ahead of last year benefiting from the non-recurrence of restructuring costs in George Weston Foods and Allied Bakeries.

Ingredients

Revenue was level with last year. Yeast and bakery ingredients revenues were close to last year across all regions. Good progress was made in bakery ingredients’ sales and margins. In China, yeast quality and productivity was improved and there was some reduction in molasses costs although the market remains competitive. The new yeast manufacturing facility in Mexico is currently being commissioned with first sales expected in the spring. At ABF Ingredients, sales of extruded grain products were well ahead of last year and protein and lactose prices remained strong.

Retail

Sales at Primark were above expectations, 25% ahead of the same period last year and 27% ahead at constant currency. This was driven by very strong like-for-like sales growth, a substantial increase in retail selling space and superior sales densities in the larger new stores. Like-for-like growth benefited from comparison with weak sales during the unseasonably warm autumn of 2011 and good trading over the Christmas period.

This was an extremely active period for new store openings. Retail selling space increased by 0.7 million sq ft since the financial year end, and by 1.1 million sq ft, or 14%, since this time last year. At 5 January 2013, 256 stores were trading from 8.9 million sq ft of selling space. We opened 14 new stores in the period: six in Spain, four in the UK, one each in Germany and the Netherlands and our first two stores in Austria. We also completed the refurbishment and extension of our flagship store on Mary Street in Dublin and relocated our store in Sunderland to a larger site. The opening of our second store on London’s Oxford Street, with 82,000 sq ft of selling space, was a notable event in the period. This pace of store openings will not continue for the remainder of this financial year but we expect it to pick up again in the next financial year. We expect to add a further 200,000 sq ft of space this year. This will include the completion of extensions to our Newcastle and Manchester stores, featuring the new store design, and a new store in Frankfurt's Zeil, one of Germany’s premier shopping areas. Capital expenditure on new stores and refits for the full year is expected to be similar to last year.

Operating profit margin was higher than in the same period last year, reflecting not only the benefit, as expected, of lower cotton prices since last half year, but also better trading.

Financial position

The operating cash flow in the period was much better than last year driven by higher profits, a lower working capital outflow and a further reduction in the overall level of capital expenditure, although investment in new stores for Primark continued at a level similar to last year. Net debt at 5 January 2013 was £0.9bn, unusually lower than last financial year end reflecting the outstanding trading from Primark and the later start to the European sugar campaigns.

Trading outlook

Year to date trading for the group was ahead of our expectations driven by the outstanding performance from Primark, with the rest of the group performing in line. As previously indicated, the full year result for AB Sugar is expected to be lower than last year but we anticipate that this will be more than offset by growth at Primark and some recovery in Grocery. In light of the group’s current performance we now expect to make further progress in adjusted operating profit for the full year, with the improvement heavily weighted towards the first half.

Original source: http://www.abf.co.uk/media/news/2013/interim-management-statement

Expert analysis

Sugar Bulletin (Dec 2012 issue)

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Sectors: Bakery, Commodities & ingredients, Financials

Companies: Associated British Foods

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