Britain’s biggest sandwich maker has just reported slumping to a Covid loss, but today Greencore's CEO said the company is seeing demand "bouncing back strongly" and that teams are busy creating hundreds of new meat-free products for the increasingly health-conscious British consumer.
The listed Greencore supplies supermarkets including M&S as well as smaller retailers such as convenience stores on high streets and in travel hubs.
The group saw a £1.8 million pre-tax loss in the six months to March 26 as lockdowns battered sales, compared with a £27.3 million profit in the same period a year earlier. Revenues were down 19% to £577.1 million.
But group chief executive, Patrick Coveney, told the Standard that revenues in the seven weeks to May 14 were just 5% behind 2019 levels as people get out and about again post-vaccination.
"What's reassuring about that is that as people are moving around again and as restrictions are being eased the demand for the food-to-go products that we make is bouncing back strongly," he said.
Greencore, which raised £90 million in equity from shareholders in November to help see it through, highlighted its reduced debt pile and strong liquidity position in its results statement on Tuesday - and said it has new products in the pipeline.
The firm has secured over £175 million in new business over the past year as smaller food producing firms went out of business and the sector consolidated. It is now looking forwards, and designing products aimed at increasingly health-conscious consumers.
"We'll have a stronger market position in our core product areas coming out of Covid than we had before," Coveney said. "We will have launched new products or refreshed about 700 of our skews in the first six months of the year, and in the full year we will probably have up to 1200 new products launched. Of those, about 40% would either be vegan or vegetarian - meat-free products of some form - which is a significantly higher percentage than previous periods.
"We are seeing a strong demand from consumers and customers for different types of healthier product."
Coveney said that despite vegan options requiring using new ingredients - many sandwiches on the high street will be filled with chickpea-based mayonnaise, or cashew-based cheese - the group has found that the process does not have to push up business costs or consumer pricing.
"Sometimes the costs of goods can be a bit lower, but the development costs can be a bit higher, so it doesn't necessarily have to be inflationary,” he said.
The chief executive, who is based at the firm’s HQ in Dublin, said the company predicts the food-to-go market will be back "more or less" to where it was before by the end of 2021, but with sales more concentrated in convenience stores and small supermarkets in suburbs and market towns as people move into the hybrid working future.