Symington’s first profit slump in 15 years

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

Symingtons has restructured its business to reduce costs during difficult times
Symingtons has restructured its business to reduce costs during difficult times

Related tags Business Leeds

Symington’s sales and profits have slumped for the first time in 15 years, despite the Yorkshire-based food manufacturer recently pumping £2.5M into a new noodle facility in Leeds.

The company, which employs 800 people across eight sites, posted pre-tax profits down 3% to £4.8M and sales down 5% to £141.3M for the year ended March 1. The dip ends a run of 15 consecutive years of growth.  

In its annual report published on Companies House website, Symington’s, the manufacturer of brands such as Chicken Tonight, Robinsons, The Food Doctor and Aunt Bessie’s, claimed tough market conditions and losses from recent acquisitions had impacted its performance.

“This inevitably impacted on our business with sales falling by 5% on the previous year … reflecting the difficult trading environment, increased sales deductions and a move away from marginal business,” ​the report said.

“Lower volumes, increased sales deductions and the opening of our new noodle facility ​[in Leeds] all impacted on margins.”

Challenging market

Symington’s in figures:

  • 3%: profits down
  • £4.8M: total profits
  • 5%: sales down
  • £141.3M: total sales
  • £2.5M: the cost its new noodle site

In response to the challenging market, Symington’s restructured its business to reduce its fixed cost base. The benefits would be seen in the new financial year, it added.

Although, tough trading conditions were expected to continue in the coming years and exposure to the “highly competitive and demanding UK retail market” ​was still a risk to the firm.

“However, the company’s commitment to quality, innovation and speed to market has served it well in this regard and remains a key pillar of the business strategy,” ​it added.

Symington’s acquired the ready meal manufacturer The Tanfield Food Company​ in October last year for an undisclosed sum, providing the firm with an entry into the growing free-from market, it said.

Tanfields products are cooked in pouches in steam pressure cookers, after being prepared by chefs. Recipes include Duke of Northumberland Estate venison in Damson Sauce and Citrus Braised Herdwick Mutton and Cumbrian Lamb Hotpot.

The ingredients come from local producers and the meals are sold in Waitrose, Ocado and Booths.

A cost of £2.5M

Last April, the firm relocated its noodle production facilities from China to a new site in Leeds​ at a cost of £2.5M, creating about 50 new jobs.

Where Symington’s operates:

  • Head office: Leeds
  • Main production site: Leeds
  • Noodle production: Leeds
  • Baking: Bradford
  • Croutons: Bradford
  • Gravy production: South Yorkshire
  • Other production: County Durham
  • Australian office: Richmond, Australia

Speaking at the official opening of the factory, Symington’s business development director Henrik Pade, said: “By moving our noodle production to Leeds, we have significantly shortened our supply chain.

“It used to take between eight to 10 weeks to source noodles from China and with this strategic business move we can be more responsive to customer orders and deliver new promotions at short notice.”

The move won the firm praise from prime minister David Cameron at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last year.

“A recent survey of small- and medium-sized businesses found that one-in-10 has brought back to Britain some production in the past year,” ​Cameron said. “The food manufacturer Symington’s is moving a factory from China to Leeds.”

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