Sanford is still investing in building its internal research and development capability and establishing itself as a premium food brand, which "slightly" delayed lowering its debt levels and kept dividends static this year, says chair Paul Norling.
The Auckland-based company's chair told shareholders at today's annual meeting that innovation and branding are Sanford's "major value enhancers for our future", and need more investment as the firm tries to shed its old image of being a fishing company.
That limited the board's ability to raise the dividend payment in the 2017 financial year, which was unchanged at 23 cents per share.
"Given the expenditure requirements associated with our transformational journey, together with ever-present and important capital expenditure demands of the company that have slightly delayed the achievement of our debt to ebitda (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) ratio target, we have been unable to move our dividend this year – this will, however, be kept under continuing review."
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Sanford reported an 8 per cent increase in annual profit to $37.5 million in October, reflecting an impairment charge the year earlier, although underlying earnings were relatively flat. Rival Moana New Zealand, which half-owns Sealord Group, yesterday announced flat earnings in the 2017 financial year.
Norling told shareholders the result was "solid", but that operating conditions started improving in the tail-end of the year.
Chief executive Volker Kuntzsch reiterated that sentiment and said the firm's focus is on creating more value from current volumes, with an expanded catch a secondary concern.
Kuntzsch said Sanford's development of inhouse innovation has come a long way and the company is looking at nutraceuticals with the recent acquisition of mussel powder manufacturer Enzaq.
The shares slipped 0.1 per cent to $8.28, having gained 22 per cent so far this year.