Ebro Puleva, the Spanish dairy products, rice and sugar group, has reported sales of €476.4 million for the first quarter of 2003, a 7.3 per cent decline compared to the same period a year earlier.
But despite the slowdown in sales, the company posted only a slight drop in net profits - just 0.3 per cent - which remained relatively stable at €24.3 million.
The decline in sales was attributed almost entirely to the sale of the company's Proterra unit in Chile, which sells farming equipment, and to a difficult three months for the rice division.
The core dairy, sugar and rice operations saw combined sales of €389.7 million during the quarter, down 2.5 per cent, but saw net profits surge ahead 28 per cent to €23.5 million - an indication that Ebro's efforts to improve the profitability of its core businesses is clearly bearing fruit.
Excluding Proterra, the Chilean unit posted sales of €86 million, down 2.3 per cent on the previous year, although the division reduced its losses to €1 million, an improvement of 84.1 per cent, helped by good results from the non-sugar operations there, namely tomatoes and fruit juices.
Sugar sales rose 9.2 per cent during the quarter to €162.2 million, while net profits were 23.6 per cent higher at €27.2 million. Rice sales of €9.8 million were down 13 per cent on the previous year, however, as a result of the weak US dollar and changes to the European farm regime. Net profits from the rice arm were down 19.7 per cent.
Dairy products sales during the first three months of the year declined 6.2 per cent to €118.9 million, but net profits grew 22.9 per cent to €4.3 million as the company focused on high added-value products.