David Cox, CEO Symington's (3)

CEO David Cox, who joined the group in November 2019, said the new strategy to build long-term value was starting to bear fruit

Symington’s has bounced back into the black as a strategic plan led by the new CEO and demand driven by the coronavirus pandemic helped sales at the Chicken Tonight owner climb higher.

The Leeds-headquartered group tumbled to a £3m loss in 2019 thanks to a decision to exit from licensed manufacturing agreements with Ainsley Harriott and Golden Wonder and focus on its own portfolio of brands.

After an 8.9% fall last year, revenues jumped back 4.2% to £114.2m in the year ended 30 August 2020, according to accounts filed at Companies House today. Shopper demand for longer life products as they stocked cupboards with essentials during the first lockdown benefitted branded ambient players such as Symington’s.

Sales overseas also increased 74% to £8.6m, with most of the growth coming from North America as a partnership with Walmart expanded from five initial listings for Naked products to 24 SKUs.

EBITDA soared 17.5% to £9.6m as a result, while pre-tax profits jumped to £2.7m as overall costs fell and exceptional items for restructuring and stock write-offs dropped from £6.1m to £1.7m.

CEO David Cox, who joined the group in November 2019, said the new strategy to build long-term value was starting to bear fruit.

“Removing dependency on producing brands under licence for others and focusing on investing, innovating and growing our brands and own-label in partnership with retailers, was the right strategic move for the business,” he added.

“This, combined with a near doubling of our export sales, has helped deliver this performance. It’s been a strong year for both brand growth and innovation, ensuring we maximise our relevance for every consumer lifestyle occasion.”

Symington’s branded business, which accounts for 47% of revenues, experienced 20% year-on-year growth for noodle, rice and soup brand Naked, which launched plant-based veg pots in the year.

The group also owns the Chicken Tonight, Ragu, Naked, Mug Shot and Twistd brands.

“Our vision is to be a global player in ambient food, the largest food category in UK grocery,” Cox said.

“Now that the exit from licensed business is complete, we have a compelling three-year strategy to deliver sustainable, profitable growth by focusing on core brands, category leading innovation and growing our export sales. This will all be supported by further improving efficiencies in our factories, developing our team and a clear CSR programme.”

Symington’s employs more than 900 staff across two locations in Leeds, a croutons and bread snacks factory in Bradford and a wet meals site in Durham.

“The team have really shone through, despite the challenges that coronavirus has brought,” Cox added.

“I’m incredibly proud of, and grateful to, them for their productivity and positive spirit, whether working in our manufacturing and distribution facilities or at home. We have done our best to support all our colleagues, and our broader community, during this tough time.”