Robert Wiseman Dairies has posted a 38% jump in pre-tax profit which it said was driven by its investment programme and increased contracts with the major supermarkets.

To March 29 pre-tax profit rose to £22.8m from £16.5m last year on a 5.4% rise in turnover to £391m from £371m. Volumes for the year grew 11.7% to 1.03 billion litres.

The company reduced overall net debt by £15.9m to £17.4m.

Wiseman said that increased business with Safeway in January 2003, as well as Tesco and Sainsbury since April meant that over 63% of total sales by volume were now in England and Wales.

In June the group will increase its store allocation with Somerfield and will up its pot cream orders at Safeway and Iceland.

Wiseman said volumes of milk processed at its Droitwich Spa dairy doubled in the second half and were set to increase “substantially again in April”. Current throughput is 350 million litres per annum. A further £7m will be spent to raise this to its final capacity of 500 million litres per annum.

To cope with extra business Wiseman plans to spend £5m constructing a new distribution depot at Chester Le Street, County Durham, to help the group service recent new contracts in the north east of England from a local base.

Wiseman said it is committed to the 2p per litre increase brought in last October in a move to support dairy farmers, which comes under review at the end of May.

The group also announced today that Norman Lessels would retire from the board following the AGM in July 2003. Norman Murray, previously a director at Morgan Grenfell Asset Management, and currently chairman of Cairn Energy and British Linen Advisers Holdings, will join the board as a non-executive director from September 1.