City Talk: Cranswick's sales boom

Sausage, bacon and pork company Cranswick made a robust start to the year, with first-quarter sales booming. Cranswick announced an increase in total sales of 19% in the three months to the end of June. Sales in the period were 198m.

Cranswick sold off its pet food business last year, and has recently clinched a deal to supply its products to Jamie Oliver, the celebrity chef, for Jamie's branded range. Cranswick is to supply all the meat and pasta for Jamie Oliver's range of fresh pork joints, pork steaks, marinated ribs, bacon and Italian charcuterie, as well as a children's sausage range.

Net debt stood at 54m 10m less than in the same period last year. Cranswick said there had been a fall in sales of Continental products, but healthy gains for sandwiches, fresh pork and bacon. Cooked meats and sausage continued to forge ahead.

Pig prices rose modestly during the first three months. Increased costs were absorbed via higher volumes and sustainable efficiencies on the operating front. Cranswick has continued to improve its business efficiency, bringing in new abattoirs and scaling up its bacon and sausage capacity. Pork is currently enjoying a wave of popularity, as it is viewed by consumers as good value and a versatile meat.

Northern Foods cautious

Northern Foods has announced it is taking a cautious approach to the rest of the year in the face of 'continued challenging trading conditions'. Like-for-like sales in the first quarter, covering the three months to 3 July, fell by 1.6%.

Frozen food sales dropped by 25% Northern is terminating unprofitable contracts that have reduced profit margins in recent years and new boss Stefan Varden is aiming at improving and stabilising profits. Pizza brand Goodfella's was relaunched and backed by a major TV advertising campaign but so far this has not provided any evidence of an immediate sales lift. Northern Foods also announced a 14% rise in chilled food sales for the last quarter. New food supply contracts have been clinched with British Airways and the Costa coffee chain. City analysts are predicting a current year operating profit of between 54m and 59m.

Sainsbury's shares sold

Sainsbury's chief executive Justin King has sold 472,446 of the retailer's shares. Dealers reckoned this refuted any speculation that the Qatar Invest-ment Authority, which owns 26% of Sainsbury's, was preparing a fresh bid offer for the chain.

M&S share price down

Marks & Spencer has seen its share price fall after the company said that consumer confidence was likely to be damaged by the austerity measures in the recent emergency Budget. M&S reported strong first-quarter sales.