Chilled foods supplier Samworth Brothers fell to an £11m pre-tax loss last year as the collapse of food to go led to a 9.2% slump in sales.

The Ginsters and West Cornwall Pasty Co owner said Covid’s impact on buying habits had led to a “very difficult and challenging” year to 2 January 2021.

At the peak of the first lockdown, its food to go sales plunged by more than 70%, leading to a full-year drop of 19% in its most profitable and largest category.

Although its meat and savoury pastry divisions grew revenues by 11.4%, it also experienced a decline in sales of its meals and its brands, driven by reduced footfall in West Cornwall Pasty Co outlets.

On a like-for-like basis, sales fell £36m and also took a £55m hit due to exiting the desserts category in 2019, resulting in total sales falling from £996m back to £905m.

Samworth Brothers posted a pre-tax profit of £29.1m in 2019, before the pandemic hit. The latest £11.1m loss was partly due to one-off Covid costs and other ongoing operational costs that amounted to over £10m.

It also incurred some £21.3m of non-underlying costs during the period, including costs driven by the reorganisation of its meals category, the closure of its Sci-Mx sports nutrition business and an impairment to West Cornwall Pasty Co.

The accounts show its statutory loss expanded to £59.1m from a profit of £14.4m in the previous year, due to an increase in its pensions deficit from £105m to £165m driven by a fall in corporate bond yields.

However, Samworth stressed that despite the impact of the pandemic, it was able to preserve its cash position and invest in the business. Capital expenditure was £21.8m in the year and in increased its ownership of Higgidy and acquired the Urban Eat brand from collapsed rival Adelie.

The accounts also stated that it is committed to increasing its current 62.9% stake in piemaker Higgidy to acquire the entire share capital in 2021 or 2022 depending on performance conditions, resulting in a future cost of £16.5m.

So far in 2021 it said it has “back on track” and its trading performance is now “more positive”.

Food to go sales have now returned to more normal levels and the company said it is seeing positive trading in other parts of the business.