Northern Ireland poultry giant Moy Park has said it expects to escape any major financial hit from Covid-19 as it reported sales of £1.63bn for 2019.
The Craigavon-based firm, the biggest private sector company here, also reported pre-tax profits of £67.8m, up 36% on the year before.
Group company Moy Park Holdings (Europe) Ltd’s turnover was up 1% to £1.63bn, its accounts for 2019 show. The majority of sales - £1.2bn - were in the UK and Ireland.
The directors have proposed a dividend of £2.6m.
But the accounts reveal that orders have taken a hit in lockdown from the closure of the foodservice sector, which includes workplace canteens and restaurants.
However, retail sales through supermarkets and convenience stores have gone up.
The company said: “In March 2020, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic started to impact the industry. The business experienced an increase in retail sales as consumers were spending more time at home and a reduction in foodservice sales.”
It has also stopped non-essential costs and cut capital expenditure to maintenance and strategic projects only.
But a statement by the company within the accounts said: “With all the mitigating plans and actions in place, and despite the uncertainty of the duration of the pandemic and its economic and social consequences, we are optimistic we can recover a good portion of the financial impact of the challenges we are currently facing, and our results may not be significantly impacted when compared to prior year.”
Its workforce also increased to 10,393 from 10,307 during the year across facilities in Northern Ireland, England, France and the Netherlands.
Around 5,500 work in Northern Ireland.
The group’s staff costs hit £292.6m, and the highest-paid director received £710,000 in 2019 - just 27% of the £2.6m paid to the highest-paid director the year before.
There was £57m invested in the group’s infrastructure during the year.
The report said risks facing the business included the price of feed grain, which can be affected by global supply and demand, weather patterns and government policy.
It was also at the mercy of consumer preference and demand, as well as the effectiveness of its supply chain.
It said Brexit posed a number of challenges, and that the group had put in place a Brexit steering committee to position the group for any eventual outcome.
It added: “The group is focused predominantly on domestic markets which will help reduce any such impact.”
A spokesman for the company said; “We are pleased to announce a strong financial performance in 2019, in the face of global market conditions that continue to be challenging.
“This performance was underpinned by a strategy of unrelenting focus on cost control, working closely with our key customers and a culture of constant innovation, in what remains a dynamic competitive landscape and a market still facing significant commodity cost inflation.”
It comes as the company announced an investment of over £1m on new technology to streamline its operations in Craigavon.
The investment includes packaging technology, a new inspection line and added advanced chilling equipment.
Gareth Wright, Moy Park Craigavon general manager, said: “This is the first phase in a modernisation of our Craigavon site and cements Moy Park’s position as one of the most advanced producers of ‘Ready to Eat’ products in the UK and Europe.”
Earlier this month the company said it had spent £4m in safety and supportive measures to protect its staff.
Key measures include Perspex screens, one-way flow systems on site, staggered breaks and socially distanced rest and break areas as well as additional personal protective equipment.
The company is also rolling out thermal temperature screening technology.