Iconic shortbread maker Walker's slims product range and pays back £1.3m to government

Shortbread maker Walker’s, which ranks as one of Scotland’s top food exporters, has expressed concern over Brexit uncertainty while slimming down its product range amid pandemic restrictions.

Walker’s Shortbread, run by brothers Jim and Joe Walker, is one of the most famous Scottish food brands and a major export success story. Picture: Walker’s Shortbread Ltd

Releasing results for 2019, joint managing director Jim Walker said the family-owned business remained well funded with a strong balance sheet.

He said the Aberlour-based firm had closed its factories for a three-week period and placed its workforce on furlough at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, before introducing physical distancing measures and restarting production.

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The board has taken the decision to repay the £1.35 million initially claimed under the Job Retention Scheme.

Walker said: “We only returned to work when social distancing measures for the food industry outlined by the UK and Scottish governments were observed in their entirety.

“Since then production has been successfully rebuilt. Nevertheless, we are taking steps to improve our efficiency by streamlining our product range.”

He added: “We remain concerned about uncertainty for the future and the continued anxiety for all businesses caused by the Brexit process.

“One bright spot in 2020 was the reversal of tariffs by the US administration and we are confident we can resume our long run of growth in the US where we have operated our own sales and marketing subsidiary for over 25 years.

“I am also pleased to report that despite the challenges of the past few years our share of the UK export market for shortbread has grown consistently.”

The results for the year ended 31 December 2019 revealed turnover of £148.8m, compared with £147m the year before. Export revenues grew from 47 per cent to 49 per cent of the total haul. Operating profit amounted to £6.8m, down marginally on the £7.1m reported 12 months earlier.

Walker said: “It would be fair to say that external political and trade issues made 2019 a fairly challenging year but we are a well funded business with a strong balance sheet and were prepared when external difficulties posed a threat.

“It would be remiss of me simply to comment on 2019 without mentioning the ravages this current year’s Covid-19 pandemic has had on the entire UK population and businesses.

“The health and well-being of our employees are always of paramount important to our family-run business and at the outset of the pandemic we closed our factories for a three-week period and placed our workforce on furlough.”

He added: “Keen observers will note that there has been a subtle change to our company’s name. What was Walkers Shortbread Limited will now be Walker’s Shortbread Ltd.

“Students of grammar will note the all-important apostrophe. This has been done for two reasons. The first is to emphasise that the company is still run by one family, hence the apostrophe signifying singularity. Secondly, the new name is part of a rebranding that will be introduced over the course of the next year.

“Lastly, my brother Joe and I will continue to pass over our responsibilities to a combination of the fourth generation of the family and a select group of non-family executives. Joe and I will adopt supervisory positions on the board.”

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