Highland Spring hails 'resilient' 2020 despite pandemic watering down sales

Bottled water firm Highland Spring Group has poured out a modest operating profit for 2020 and flagged further progress this year thanks to restructuring efforts and new products.

Bosses at the Perthshire-based firm said the business had “demonstrated resilience” during the past year against the challenging backdrop of the Covid crisis.

Despite overall sales volumes being “negatively impacted” by the pandemic, the switch to working and socialising at home, as well as cuts in non-essential expenditure, enabled a return to a small operating profit from continuing operations.

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The firm also benefited from the launch of products including Highland Spring flavoured cans and a ten-litre hydration pack, in response to “evolving consumer trends”.

Annual sales of the Highland Spring brand are more than 330 million litres, with the Scottish group’s share of the total UK bottled water market standing at 15 per cent.

The 2020 accounts showed an operating profit from continuing operations of £241,000 before interest. Turnover from continuing operations fell to £87.6 million from £99.3m in 2019.

The Blackford-based group noted: “The steps taken by the business to improve operational efficiencies and reduce overhead costs through restructuring the group has positively impacted operating profit in 2020 and is expected to do so again in 2021.

“As a result, during 2020, the group was proud that with a modest sales volume decline of around nine million litres against a larger relative market decline, the brand performed well to retain and extend its position as the UK’s number one plain bottled water brand with a healthy market share of 10.3 per cent.”

Annual sales of the Highland Spring brand are more than 330 million litres, with the group’s share of the total UK bottled water market standing at 15 per cent.

The firm also hailed its environmental credentials, noting that it will be carbon neutral by the end of 2021 and achieve its overall target of net zero emissions by 2040.

Chief executive Les Montgomery said: “Our focus in the last 12-18 months has been on protecting our employees and ensuring the long- term sustainability of the business. It is great testament to the commitment and dedication of all our staff that they adapted so well and continued to deliver strong performances.”

The group recently announced that Montgomery was retiring from the role after nearly four decades with the water business.

Chief commercial officer Simon Oldham and chief operating officer Mark Steven will step up to be joint managing directors of the company.

Montgomery will become a non-executive director of the group from the end of this year, having joined it in 1985. He was promoted to the chief executive role in 2007 after serving as finance director.

He added: “Despite the challenges of 2020, the business has remained resilient in the face of the pandemic, and we are currently in recruitment mode to ensure we have the right skills to meet demand as the country moves forward to a different way of life.

“After 36 years with Highland Spring Group, I recently announced my retirement as chief executive and will take up a non-executive position in the new year, and I would like to wish our new joint managing directors, Simon Oldham and Mark Steven all the very best as they navigate the post-Covid landscape.

“I have full confidence that our business will continue to grow under their leadership.”

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