Beans means growth for Premier

PREMIER Foods said yesterday that its new Branston baked beans range had snared 7% of the market in the first three months since its launch.Unveiling profits of £90.

PREMIER Foods said yesterday that its new Branston baked beans range had snared 7% of the market in the first three months since its launch.

Unveiling profits of £90.2 million for last year, Premier said it had spent £3.5 million on marketing its Branston Baked Beans as it looks to challenge the domination of Heinz.

Chief executive Robert Schofield said it had claimed 7% of the market within three months and that by the end of February it held an 11.2% share.

However, Heinz said its position remained unchanged at 68% and suggested Premier was eating into the own-label brands it makes for supermarkets.

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“Branston certainly hasn't dented Heinz's position as the nation's favourite baked bean,” a spokesman added.

Premier, which also owns brands such as Sarson's Vinegar and Birds Custard, saw profits rise by 11.9% after a year in which it made several acquisitions, including meat substitute Quorn, and faced “significant” rises in energy costs.

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The loss of a baked beans licence from HP from this month prompted Premier to introduce the Branston Beans and tinned pasta range – a launch it described as “extremely successful”.

Premier saw total sales rise 6% to £789.7 million despite a string of setbacks, including the fire in 2004 at its Bury St Edmunds pickle factory, which remained closed until Easter.

A mild autumn meant that warming soups and convenience meals were less in demand, while the hike in energy bills and in tin-plate used in packaging also dented profits.

And its fresh produce range saw sales and profits slip as its troubled MBM business – which supplies bagged potatoes to retailers and wholesalers – saw prices fall and lost major contracts.

Premier's biggest move of 2005 saw it tapping into the growing hunger of Britons for healthy meals, by acquiring two makers of meat-free products.

The landmark £172 million acquisition of the maker of Quorn in June, was followed in November a £27 million deal for Cauldron Foods, which supplies vegetarian sausages, falafel and tofu.

The combined “meat-free” business saw sales of £49.6 million, bolstered by television advertising. Premier said an extra 420,000 households were now eating Quorn than a year ago.

Other good performances included extending the Lloyd Grossman cooking sauce range, the third largest in the UK.

Bird's, bought in February, helped trading profit in Premier's spreads, desserts and drinks business – which also includes Cadbury hot chocolate and Marvel – climb 21.1% to £67.1 million.

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