Walker’s Shortbread has returned £1.35m in UK government furlough payments as it reported increased turnover but slightly reduced annual profits.
The Speyside-based company reported operating profits reduced to £6.8m – from £7.1m – on turnover up to £148.8m – up from £147m – for the year to 31 December.
The business grew its export revenues by 47% to amount to 49% of its total revenues.
The reporting of results marks a ‘changing of the guard’ at the family businesss with joint managing director brothers Jim and Joe Walker stepping up to advisory positions on the company’s board.
Jim Walker said: “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.”
Reflecting on the past year, he 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 wellbeing 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.
“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 explained the company’s decision to pay back the aid received under the furlough scheme.
He said: “The board have also taken the decision to repay the £1.35m initially claimed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme as production has started to climb back towards pre-pandemic levels and its threat to employment has been averted.
“Having said that 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.”
He also remarked on a subtle name change for the business.
He said “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.”