Food technology and ingredients company Kerry Group has said the coronavirus outbreak will have a "small impact" on the company in the first quarter of the year.

The Kerry Group has five plants in China. 

Kerry said that over the past number of weeks, the company has been working with its team in China to manage the ongoing developments relating to the outbreak of the coronavirus there.

It said it has included in its full year guidance an estimated first quarter impact on its China business from the virus. 

"It will have a small impact in Q1," Kerry's chief executive Edmond Scanlon said. 

"We have five plants in China. They were closed during the Chinese New Year. We also closed for two weeks post-new year, but the plants are all back open. From a staffing standpoint, we're not back fully running but we expect to do so in the coming weeks," Mr Scanlon said. 

The plants are currently working at around 30% capacity.

Kerry expects Asia to be significantly bigger for the group than Europe in the future.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

The Kerry Group CEO said its primary focus was on the health and safety of its 1,100 employees in China.

Shares in Kerry Group rose by 3.85% in Dublin trade today after it reported a 12.1% increase in group trading profit for the full financial year to €903m. 

That was on revenue of €7.2 billion, which reflected growth of almost 10%. 

The Kerry board has recommended a final dividend of 55.1 cent per share, an increase of 12% on the final 2018 dividend. 

Along with the interim dividend of 23.5 cent per share, the company said this brings the total dividend for the year to 78.6 cent, an increase of 12% on the previous year.

Kerry said the "strong" growth achieved during 2019 was driven by good volume growth in Taste & Nutrition and the contribution from strategic acquisitions. 

It noted that its Taste & Nutrition division achieved good volume growth in the Americas, a solid performance in Europe and continued strong growth in Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa (APMEA). 

Kerry Group's Naas facility

Its also said its Consumer Foods division delivered a solid underlying performance compared to the overall market, which was offset by the impact of dropping of a ready meals contract.

Kerry CEO Edmond Scanlon said the company was pleased with the business performance and the strategic development of the group in 2019. 

"Taste & Nutrition delivered good volume growth, particularly against the backdrop of softer market volumes in some developed markets," he said. 

"We also enhanced our trading profit margin and achieved growth in adjusted earnings per share of 8.3% in constant currency," the CEO added.

Mr Scanlon said that significant progress was made right across its strategic growth priorities of taste, nutrition, foodservice and developing markets. 

"We successfully integrated a number of strategic acquisitions, expanded our strategic footprint in high growth developing markets, while further enhancing our industry-leading global integrated solutions portfolio," he added.

The company's share price has risen substantially in recent times, mainly on the back of the expected acquisition of the nutrition division of the US multinational, DuPont. 

However, in a surprise turn of events, they opted instead to merge with the US outfit International Flavours & Fragrances in December.

Kerry's share price took an initial hit, but it later bounced back and has stayed quite elevated as traders appear to be focused on a fresh acquisition of a similar magnitude or a series of smaller bolt-ons in the coming months.

Mr Scanlon would not be drawn on whether the company would scope out another acquisition of the magnitude of the DuPont nutrition operation.

"The strategy has always been to focus on organic growth and acquisitions. Kerry will always be linked with such opportunities as they become available. We've invested over €500 million in 11 acquisitions in the last year. We've a strong pipeline and this year I anticipate we will spend another half a billion," he said.

"Acquisitions have always been part of our strategy whether they're small, medium or large. We've the firepower on the balance sheet and the support of our shareholders," he added.

Richard Flood, investment manager at Brewin Dolphin Ireland, said that Kerry has once again served up a strong set of results, driven by its global food ingredients business, which continues to be the key engine of growth. 

"While the impact of the coronavirus is a concern, Kerry has the firepower to deliver in challenging markets," Mr Flood added.