Northern Foods, the maker of ready meals and chilled foods, has released its third post-Christmas profit warning in four years as a result of poor trading at Marks & Spencer, which represents a third of the company’s sales.

The company supplied two thirds of the UK’s Christmas puddings this year and it also reported a rise in mince pie sales, but its profits were hit by lower than expected sales in its chilled and ready-prepared foods divisions.

Northern Foods reported that as a result of its poor Christmas trading it believes that its profits for the year to March 2005 would be closer to £80m than the £90m predicted by analysts.

Pat O’Driscoll, the new chief executive of Northern Foods said: “Although the market place remains challenging and highly competitive, we are confident that the actions already taken and those planned with have medium and long-term benefits for the Group.”