Irn-Bru-maker AG Barr getting 'back on track' after profit blow

Irn-Bru-maker AG Barr has seen half-year sales and profits lose fizz – but raised its interim dividend in a move seen as suggesting that the firm is "back on track".

Chief executive Roger White said the firm expects to meet the revised profit expectations communicated in July. Picture: Stewart Attwood.
Chief executive Roger White said the firm expects to meet the revised profit expectations communicated in July. Picture: Stewart Attwood.

The Cumbernauld-based firm said pre-tax profit excluding exceptional items came in at £13.9 million for the six months ended 27 July, from £18.2m 12 months previously.

Revenue amounted to £122.5m, down from £136.9m in the comparable period. Earnings per share before exceptional items came in at 9.83p, from 12.74p, while an interim dividend of 4p per share, up from 3.9p 12 months previously, was declared.

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The soft drinks firm - whose other brands include Rubicon, and Rockstar energy drinks - also said its share buyback programme was on track to complete by year-end.

It comes after the firm in July issued a shock profit warning, saying the past year had been an “unprecedented” one for the soft drinks industry with “changing pricing and promotional dynamics” following the introduction of a sugar-tax levy alongside CO2 shortages and weather-related challenges.

The maker of “Scotland’s other national drink” warned at the time that profits for the full year were likely to be down by as much as 20 per cent.

But boss Roger White said today: “Our focus remains on delivering long-term growth. We have plans in place to address our specific brand-related challenges and are ensuring that the business is appropriately scaled to perform in the current market. Despite continuing economic uncertainty, we expect to meet the revised profit expectations communicated in July.”

John Moore, senior investment manager at Brewin Dolphin, said: "Investors were spooked earlier in the year by the normally reliable AG Barr’s profits warning. Following the announcement, the share price dropped nearly a third – but today’s update should provide some reassurance that there has been no further deterioration.

"The weather hasn’t been kind to the business this year and the soft drinks tax has caused issues too, leading to a sales drop on a comparative basis; but, to be fair, AG Barr had a particularly good run last year making it a tough comparator.

"Crucially, there is also a clear plan of action for its Rockstar and Rubicon brands, which have had their problems and were a catalyst for the profits warning. Perhaps the most important indicator of management’s view of the long term is the rise in dividend and continuation of the share buyback programme – they suggest the bad news this year could be a temporary blip and AG Barr is back on track.”

Sophie Lund-Yates, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “It’s a pleasant surprise to see AG Barr post some fizzier results. July’s profit warning sent the shares tumbling after the group struggled against the high bar set in 2018. It’s particularly refreshing to hear AG Barr is being proactive in addressing the challenges being faced by a couple of the brands, namely Rockstar Energy and Rubicon juice drinks, with new products and remixed recipes expected to be rolled out later this year.

"The group admits performance has been disappointing so far, with some customers being put off by higher prices. Consumers seem to be coming round to the idea of a different price point though, with early signs the bigger price tags are helping to offset industry-wide volume declines."

She added that AG Barr investors "will be relieved to see things haven’t got any worse".