Belfast Telegraph

Potato giant has to dig deep for innovative new ideas after pre-tax profits plummet 75%

By Rachel Martin

A fall in the popularity of potatoes among health-conscious consumers contributed to a 75% slump in pre-tax profits at Wilson's Country.

Results for the year ending July 25, 2015 revealed the potato giant's turnover fell by around £2m due to "challenging market conditions" for pre-packed and peeled potatoes.

Wilson's, which is based in Craigavon, said the fall in turnover "mirrored the market", citing research by Kantar recording a 14.7% fall in the value of the fresh potato market.

And the company, which processes potatoes from 25 farmers and has 84 staff, also battled with falling prices from supermarket customers as price competition intensified among the multiples.

Pre-tax profit at the firm, which supplies supermarkets such as Tesco, Dunnes and Supervalu, fell from just over £1m to £246,000 - a drop of just over 75% over a year.

Cash reserves also dropped from over £70,000 to just over £3,000.

But director Angus Wilson told the Belfast Telegraph: "This year's financial performance needs reviewed in the context of our three-year average.

"The 2013 accounts were exceptionally good after a loss-making 2012. Our overall performance relates significantly to farm-gate potato prices.

"These prices vary with supply which of course ultimately is dictated by the acres grown and the weather patterns across Europe.

"Demand in our local marketplace is reasonably steady but the market is and will continue to be very competitive.

"The company has a very innovative team who are constantly creating new ideas and more convenient products for our customers. Staff numbers are planned to continue at or around existing levels."

In a strategic report accompanying the accounts, the company said: "The potato pre-pack and peeled potato market through the financial year ending July 25, 2015, experienced challenging market conditions as retail and food service customers sought to maintain their market shares by lower prices and promotions and market deflation.

"The business had to react with lower prices to customers and hence the company fell from £14m in 2014 to £11.9m in 2015, a 15% reduction."

The loss of a retail customer was also listed as a factor which will affect the firm during 2016 though the company did not give the name of the former client.

Michelle Shirlow, head of food promotion body Food NI, said Wilson's had been innovative but was falling victim to changing customers tastes. "Wilson's are to be commended for their innovation," she said. "They have carried out a lot of market research and responded accordingly but the consumption of potatoes is something which has been in decline for a while now.

"Chefs are still experimenting with potatoes but consumers have smaller households and are time pressed so are unfortunately attracted to convenience foods and alternatives like rice, pasta and quinoa."

Belfast Telegraph