Farmfoods plots southern push

Frozen food specialist Farmfoods is mounting a big push to expand in the south of England.

The drive follows the opening of 20 shops last year, taking the group to 263 outlets.

Retail director Gerry Savage said stores south of Birmingham are a particular priority. 'There is no upper limit on the number of stores we want. But they must be the right location and the right size,' he said.

A deal is close to being signed for the latest outlet at Walthamstow in northeast London. The shop is due to begin trading in March.

The retailer's Web site, launched last year, lists hundreds of locations where premises are being sought. The requirements are for sites between 280 sq m and 465 sq m with HGV access.

A spokesman said: 'We've been creeping south for some time, but we're looking all over the country.'

The expansion comes despite a fall in profits and turnover at the Scottish-based retailer. During the year to December 31, 2001, pre-tax profits were£2.2 million against£8.1 million a year earlier. Sales were down 14 per cent to£174 million.

The group, number two in frozen food after Iceland, has suffered at the hands of discount grocers.

Retail Knowledge Bank research director Robert Clark said Asda in particular is providing tough competition.

'There are parallels with the agency mail order. Frozen food is arguably a sector that has had its day,' added Clark.

- Company profile p12.