Hard times and marketing spend hit profitability at Albert Bartlett

Desperate Housewives star Marcia Cross in an Albert Bartlett advert.
Desperate Housewives star Marcia Cross in an Albert Bartlett advert.
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PROFITS at potato producer Albert Bartlett have dipped after “competitive” retail markets chipped away at sales and the Airdrie-based firm ramped up spending on advertising.

The company continued to pump money into its Rooster potato brand, hiring actor Jesse Metcalfe to replace fellow Desperate Housewives star Marcia Cross in television adverts for the red-skinned spuds.

Bartlett also used its relationship with film maker Disney to launch a marketing campaign for its Scotty Brand fruit and vegetables to coincide with the release of children’s hit movie Brave over the summer.

Previous deals with Disney had included featuring Toy Story 3.

The heavy advertising and marketing spending took its toll on profits, with parent company Bartlett International posting a pre-tax surplus of £8.4 million for the year to 31 May, down from £8.6m in the previous 12 months, according to accounts filed at Companies House.

Sales fell by 6.8 per cent to £132.7m, with operating profits slumping to £8.9m from £9.7m, after what company secretary Kenneth McGuinness called “testing economic conditions”.

Writing in the directors’report, McGuinness added: “The core UK retail sector continues to be one of the most competitive in the global market, providing challenges for all involved in the supply chain.”

Owner Ronnie Bartlett tucked into a £1.4m dividend from his company, with Bartlett receiving about 90 per cent of the cash and the remainder being paid to a family trust set up in 2010.

He also received £966,389 in remuneration, up from £786,796 in the previous year, as the sole director of Bartlett International.

Staffing costs rose to £19.8m from £17.5m despite the headcount dipping to 779 from 797. Net debt fell to £15.8m on 31 May from £23.4m at 1 June 2011.

The group, which was founded in 1946 and supplies one in five of the UK’s fresh potatoes, uses celebrity chefs Sally Bee, Andrew Fairlie and Michel Roux Jr to promote its tatties, alongside jockeys JP McCoy and Jamie Spencer, who act as “sporting ambassadors” as part of the sponsorship of races such as the novices’ hurdle at Cheltenham.

In March, the firm unveiled a deal with Asda owner Walmart to sell its Rooster potatoes in the United States, with the first spuds going on sale last month.

A £1.5m marketing campaign launched by the group in the spring saw characters from Disney’s Brave, the animated film set in Scotland, featuring on packs of its Scotty Brand range of produce, from carrots and potatoes through to raspberries and strawberries.

Bartlett announced in September that it will be extending its Scotty Brand – the oldest label in its stable – to cover smoked salmon during the spring. Lion Speciality Foods will supply the hot- and cold-smoked fish.

Bartlett and Duns-based rival Produce Investments, the Aim-quoted firm that owns the Greenvale potato brand, were among the winners of more than £1m in research and development grants from supermarket giant Sainsbury, which is funding research into improving farming processes.