Uniq, the struggling UK-based food group, has appointed advisers to consider the future of its businesses in France and northern Europe after posting deeper annual losses today (11 March).

The company booked a pre-tax loss of GBP54.8m (US$75.4m) for 2008, against a loss of GBP44.1m a year earlier.

Uniq said its operating losses before significant items stood at GBP8.4m for the year, compared to GBP3.6m in 2007, as weaker sales and higher raw material costs weighed on the business.

Sales dipped 0.6% to GBP797m as Uniq's premium ranges suffered with cash-strapped consumer trading down.

Chief executive Geoff Eaton said Uniq had taken "decisive action" to turn the business around and would focus on strengthening its UK business.

"We have appointed Oddo Corporate Finance in France and Stamford Partners in Northern Europe to pursue consolidation opportunities to create value through joint venture or sale and we will focus our resources to build a stronger business in the UK for the longer term," Eaton said.

Delays in recovering rising raw material costs in the UK was central to Uniq's "under-performance" in 2008, chairman Ross Warburton said.

Warburton said Uniq had endured "operational issues " at its Evercreech plant, which led to losses, while the group's presence in the more expensive end of its categories had affected the business.

"We are more dependant on premium ranges, which were more heavily impacted as consumers traded down," Warburton said.

Outside the UK, Uniq's Polish business "continued to grow", while the "revitalisation" of its Marie brand in France "demonstrates its potential", Warburton said. Losses from Uniq's German business had also been reduced, he revealed.

"In all the markets we serve in Continental Europe we can see opportunities for realising value through consolidation which is particularly pertinent in the current downturn," Warburton added.

"We can make significant progress over the next twelve months as we concentrate our resources on fewer, stronger businesses and build them for a profitable future."