Upmarket ready meals supplier Charlie Bigham’s has rebounded back into the black, driven by stellar sales growth that continues to defy the wider slump in the ready meals market.

The gourmet meals manufacturer grew sales by a further 18.1% in the year to 31 August 2019 to reach almost £71m in annual turnover.

That helped propel pre-tax profits back to £1.3m after it fell to a £1.8m pre-tax loss in the 2017/18 financial year, as investment in growing capacity and the opening of a second manufacturer site hit margins.

The company said operational improvement in its new Somerset Kitchen helped its bottom line recover.

CEO Patrick Cairns said the company “still has some way to go still” in its efforts to grow margins as it remains short of the pre-tax profits of £4m recorded two years ago.

“We’re continuing to make progress in terms of overall sales, through improved distribution and rates of sale within existing distribution,” he said.

In February the brand made its debut in desserts with a range of ready-to-bake ‘Proper Puds’ in Waitrose, while it expanded its vegetarian meal options in late 2018.

“The overall ready meals market is in slight decline and we’re bucking that trend by being relentless in terms of delivering top quality products,” Cairns said.

“A lot of our growth is coming from a high level of repeat purchase, so where we do get new consumers into the brand they generally come back and buy again.”

While it continues to invest in new products, marketing and training of employees, it is targeting bringing profits “more towards historic levels over the next few years”.

“We’re a long-term private business - we are not exceptionally profitable at the moment, so the important thing for us is how we build our business over the medium and long term,” Cairns added.

“That’s why you see in our performance over the past couple of years, we’re heavily investing in the business with advertising support and in terms of our production and quality and that is our priority.”