Turnover was up but profits halved at Stewarts of Tayside last year, partly because of the costs incurred in making the Glencarse workplace Covid-secure for hundreds of employees.
In its annual report the leading soft fruit and swede producer says it succeeded “under extreme pressure” in delivering to all its customers on time and in full in the year ending May 31, 2021.
It added that it would not be immune to potential shut downs if the infection was introduced to the site, so it has taken “strong and robust” measures to try to prevent that happening.
Trading conditions during the year were heavily influenced by the pandemic as well as challenging growing and harvesting conditions for swedes.
That resulted in turnover rising 9.9% to £29.22 million (£26.58 in 2020) while pre-tax profit fell to £1.025 million (2020: £2.167 million).
Company chairman Will Stewart reported that while labour is becoming increasingly expensive, prices for produce remain flat, which has led the company to invest in technology and find efficiencies.
Mr Stewart said: “Exiting the European Union has greatly added to this challenge.”
The average number of people employed by Stewarts during 2021 was 458 (2020: 433), and seasonal labour has traditionally been sourced from the EU.
Mr Stewart called on the UK Government to introduce a “robust and functioning” Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme.
”This would need to allow for a higher number of permits on a year-round basis than the current temporary scheme provides for,” he said.
”Without this it is clear that there will be significant disruption in the food supply chains in 2022 and beyond.”
Mr Stewart said the company had adopted measures to mitigate these risks, but emphasised that the general level of uncertainty is unhelpful for the sector as it works to keep food shelves stocked across Great Britain.