Cook has moved back into profit following the launch of its franchise operation.

The frozen ready meals retailer reported profits of £791,000 in the year to 31 March, against a loss of £326,000 the year before, on sales up 11.5% to £19m.

Its franchise business, launched eight months ago, was behind the increase, said MD Edward Perry. The company's 10th franchise store was set to open soon, with a further 12 planned this year.

"The move into franchising last year has enabled us to open stores and increase sales at a rate otherwise impossible," he said. "As a fiercely independent business, there is a natural fit for us to work with like-minded business owners who recognise the unique strengths of the brand."

Expanding Cook's products into Cook-branded freezers in independent retailers, delis and farm shops, had also boosted performance, with Cook products now available in about 200 indies, he added.

Trading would remain challenging this year, Perry said: "While we don't see much evidence that things are getting any easier, we are confident we have the people and strategy in place to sustain growth."

The company plans to invest in improved ready meals this year following a renewed focus from the multiples and manufacturers on frozen food.