Belfast Telegraph

Family firm W&R Barnett weathers Brexit storm to see sales top £1.2bn

Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

One of Northern Ireland's most profitable home-grown companies has reported an increase in turnover to over £1.2bn in its latest accounts.

Belfast-based W&R Barnett, a global business whose interests include molasses, animal feed, grain and other items, said sales were up from £1.1bn last year.

Pre-tax profits also grew from £46.8m to £51.6m.

The family business, which dates back to 1896 and is now led by William Barnett, also made two acquisitions during the year.

In a strategic report accompanying the results for the year ending July 2018, the firm said that Brexit brought some uncertainty for the group but indicated that it was "low-risk".

"The directors are confident that the group is in a strong position to react quickly at the appropriate time when the future trading relationship between the UK and EU becomes clear in order to continue to provide the highest levels of services to our customers," it said.

According to the accounts, the group now employs 1,567 people, up from 1,485 the year before. Staff costs increased accordingly, from £60.88m to £63.7m.

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The directors stressed that they were satisfied with the level of business during the year and the position of the company at year-end.

They vowed to continue investing in "people, product development, facilities and suitable acquisitions in order to ensure its ongoing development".

W&R Barnett also operates dockside facilities and supplies bulk liquid storage facilities to UK industry. It owns businesses including animal feed giant John Thompson & Sons and packaging company Logson Holdings in England and is involved in horsebreeding.

It also operates in western Europe, Asia and central America.

Company revenue passed £1bn for the first time in the year to the end of July 2017.

During the year it bought over Braeside Group through its subsidiary Logson Holdings for just under £11m. Braeside designs and manufactures corrugated cases and packaging.

In December 2017, another subsidiary, United Molasses Marketing, took over Argos Feed Group, a specialist in molasses marketing, for a total of £1.2m.

Since the period covered in the results, W&R Barnett bought 50% of the share capital of US firm Andean Life for a consideration of $1.4m.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last month, chief executive William Barnett said that while planning for Brexit was costing millions of pounds, the greater cost came from having to divert energy away from other matters.

He also stressed there was nervousness within the EU about dealing with companies in Northern Ireland after Brexit.

Belfast Telegraph