UK biscuit and snacks maker United Biscuits has reported a fall in first-half profit, hit by tough trading conditions in the UK.

The company said business profit was £64.7m (US$114.9m) for the first half of 2004, compared to £68.0m a year earlier, as good performances in Northern and Southern Europe were offset by operations in the UK.

United Biscuits said that in spite of challenging market conditions group turnover for the first half remained broadly level at £652.5m, compared to £655.4m a year earlier, including currency translation losses of £7.3m.

Branded sales increased to represent 88% of total revenues versus 87% a year earlier. Investment behind priority brands increased.

"United Biscuits has achieved a number of key milestones in the first half of 2004 in its strategy to deliver branded growth. Our acquisition of Triunfo and the proposed acquisition of Jacob's are central to the company's future, adding proven brands with potential for further development in their existing and UB's other core markets," said chief executive Malcolm Ritchie.

"Tough trading conditions in the UK reduced the effect of a solid performance in Northern Europe and continued growth in southern Europe. In the near term the trading outlook in the UK remains challenging but longer term we are confident about prospects based on strong business fundamentals," he added.