UK dairy products firm Dairy Crest has reported a slight fall in full-year pre-tax profit and said trading at the start of the new financial year is in line with expectations.

The company posted profit before tax of £45.6m (US$83.2m) for the year to 31 March 2004, compared to £47.8m in the year-ago period. Adjusted profit before tax, before exceptional items and goodwill amortisation, rose to £85.1m from £76.8m a year earlier. Turnover edged up 3% to £1.36bn.

“We made good progress in key areas last year delivering an 11% rise in adjusted profit before tax backed by strong cash generation. Trading at the start of the year is in line with expectations, including good growth by Cathedral City. We believe that with strong brands, a well invested manufacturing base and good cash generation Dairy Crest is well placed to meet the challenges of the future,” said CEO Drummond Hall.

Dairy Crest said its spreads business is now its biggest profit centre, with early signs of success in re-launching its St Ivel Gold brand. The company also said it had increased marketing support for brands to build a stronger franchise for the future.