Convenience food group Greencore said the Covid-19 pandemic has had a dramatic and volatile impact on the shape of UK food consumption, though there are signs that demand patterns have recently begun to stabilise. 

Announcing its half yearly results for the year to March 27, Greencore said that weekly demand in its "food to go" categories declined by up to 70% in the six weeks since March 27.

But it also noted "sustained growth" in its other convenience categories, in particular cooking sauces, with growth currently about 5% above last year's levels.

The Ireland-based, London-listed group is the biggest pre-packed sandwich maker in the UK.

Greencore said its adjusted operating profit for the six month period fell by 14.2% to £38.3m from £44.7m while its revenues increased by 1.6% to £712.7m from £701.4m.

As announced on March 30, Greencore will not be proceeding with an interim dividend payment and today also said it would not issue either a final dividend for 2020 or an interim 2021 dividend payment.

It also said that due to the ongoing level of uncertainty around the possible duration and impact of Covid-19, its outlook for its first fiscal quarter should no longer be considered current.

Greencore's chief executive Patrick Coveney said the Covid-19 response "makes Brexit seem very trivial, to be honest with you", because it is a health crisis that has become a challenge for business as well. 

Mr Coveney said he hopes "sanity will prevail" and Britain won't make what the challenge of responding to Covid-19 "even riskier by throwing a disorderly Brexit in on top of that".
 
Patrick Coveney said he expects Greencore's "food to go" business to return when people return to work.

"I think it will take a while because you are not going to see a dramatic wholesale return to work. I think it will be phased through the rest of the year," he stated. 

He also said a change in work habits with more people working from home will also affect business.

In today's results statement, Greencore said it has taken "prudent measures" to protect profitability and cashflow to ensure maximum flexibility through this "uncertain environment". 

The company said it has "tightened" its food to go production network by temporarily ceasing production at its Bow, Atherstone and Heathrow facilities and rationalising production at its Northampton site in the UK.

It has also temporarily laid off a substantial proportion of its staff in the UK, using the UK government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

The Greencore board and its executive directors have voluntarily agreed to take a 30% reduction in respective fees and base salary for a period of three months, with the wider senior teams also taking a voluntary reduction of between 10% and 20% of base salary for three months.

The company said it is playing an important role in a food industry that has become a critical component of UK infrastructure through this pandemic and Greencore staff have been designated as "key workers". 

Patrick Coveney said the company has implemented a broad range of actions to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on the business and to position it for growth as the pandemic eases. 

"More than ever before, our deep customer relationships, leadership positions in key food categories, well invested network, flexible model, and outstanding people are key strengths that ensure we trade our way resiliently through this uncertain period," he added.

Shares in the company were lower in London trade today.