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Coveney upbeat on Greencore US staffing

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Patrick Coveney, CEO of Greencore

Patrick Coveney, CEO of Greencore

Patrick Coveney, CEO of Greencore

Greencore CEO Patrick Coveney yesterday insisted the sandwich maker will avoid US immigration pitfalls encountered by the Swiss-Irish baker, Arzyta, stressing the group carries out multiple audits on its workers' documentation every year.

Speaking at the London-listed company's AGM in Dublin, Mr Coveney said "we have had no recent issues" on that front, but pointed out it was impossible to "give categorical certainty that every single person has perfect documentation around status".

Greencore, which yesterday notched up a 7.2pc increase in pro forma revenue for the first quarter, employs a large contract workforce at its US factories. The scale of the business in that market, as Mr Coveney emphasised to shareholders at a packed ballroom in the Westin hotel, has quadrupled since the Irish-incorporated group snapped up Peacock Foods for $747.5m (€602.5m) in 2016.

The expansion comes as the Trump administration ramps up enforcement actions against illegal workers, a move that has hit some large food sector employers like Aryzta, which in November lost a third of the workforce at its Cloverhill bakery in Chicago as a result of a raid by immigration officials. The staff were indirectly employed but the disruption to production continues to weigh on its financial performance.

Greencore's enlarged US business is performing well, Mr Coveney said.

"We are absolutely delighted with the Peacock acquisition" and it has delivered "in line with our expectations in every respect", he said.

Greencore chairman Gary Kennedy described the US arm as "on fire", pointing to pro forma growth of 5.1pc in the past quarter, underpinned by volume growth of about 7pc.

Mr Coveney told media that Greencore "still has some work to do to build confidence across our shareholder base that our US business is really going to deliver like our board expects it to" but claimed the strategy will be judged on the "financial outcomes" over the next 18 months.

Despite the revenue growth, particularly in the UK market where pro forma revenue shot up by 8.7pc over the past quarter, Greencore's share price remains beset by volatility, tumbling close to 24pc since its 12-month peak in March.

Analyst Martin Deboo of Jefferies said the share price is "too low" for a "business with such sustained revenue momentum". In a note to clients he added the one-off $28m tax credit, reaped from President Trump's recent tax reform, has yet to be quantified in terms of the company's bottom line.

Greencore's shares sank by 1.6pc yesterday to close at £198.95 each.

Irish Independent