Vegetarian deal helps Hilton Food Group dish up profits hike

A move to tap into the fast-growing vegetarian market has helped food processing and packaging firm Hilton Food Group serve up a hike in half-year profits.

It posted a 10.6% rise in interim pre-tax profits to £23.2 million and hailed an “encouraging” contribution from its recently bought 50% stake in Netherlands-based vegetarian and vegan product manufacturer Dalco Food.

The group, which completed the Dalco stake purchase in January, was previously solely a meat producer but has been branching out into alternatives.

Greggs launch vegan sausage roll
The vegan sausage roll has been a hit for bakery chain Greggs (PA)

The surging popularity of vegetarian and vegan diets has prompted a raft of food firms to develop alternatives to meat, with recent successes including the successful vegan sausage roll launched by bakery chain Greggs.

Hilton also snapped up Seachill – a fish and seafood supplier to UK supermarkets – for more than £80 million in late 2017.

Results showed the Dalco deal helped western European earnings rise 8% to £26.8 million for the six months to July 1, which also includes the UK market.

Hilton also revealed that since June, it now supplies all of supermarket giant Tesco’s packed red meat in Britain.

This is prompting it to invest in its UK operations to meet the increased supply demands for Tesco.

The group said its growth outlook was buoyed by the investment in vegetarian product firm Dalco, as well as its recent expansion into the “sous-vide” market through the takeover of HFR Food Solutions in the UK.

Its deal to buy HFR – a sous-vide manufacturer that specialises in cooking sealed food slowly in water, has helped it further expand into the UK pork and poultry market.

Robert Watson, executive chairman at Hilton, said: “Hilton has expanded its operational scale and diversified into new high growth proteins whilst delivering continued increases in volume and profit.”

He added: “Investments in vegetarian and sous-vide manufacturers increases the new protein offerings we can supply to our retailer partners.”

On Brexit, Hilton said it was “well prepared” for a no-deal scenario, with significant contingency measures in place, including plans to switch to local suppliers where possible to avoid border delays, as well as ongoing stockpiling talks with suppliers.

Hilton was founded in 1994 to set up and run a beef and lamb central meat packing facility in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

It has since grown rapidly and now has six factories across Europe and two joint ventures, with products sold in supermarkets across 14 European countries and Australia.

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