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SunOpta reports Q3 loss; continues debt reduction

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 10-Nov-2009

Canadian natural and organics group SunOpta has reported a loss of $4.7m in the third quarter of 2009, much of it linked to professional and banking fees, but it has continued its debt reduction strategy.

Some of the fees ($1.7m) were related to the 2007 restatement and class action settlement, which blighted the company’s fruit division during the beginning part of 2008. This was due to lack of proper internal controls and over-valuation of the division in 2007. The legal case led to delayed results for the fiscal year and, the company said, ongoing “goodwill impairment”.

But the company has been making strides toward shrinking debt and increasing liquidity. It decreased debt by approximately $19.5 million during Q3 – a reduction of approximately $38.2 million versus the previous year.

President and CEO of SunOpta Steve Bromley said: "Our balance sheet continues to improve with reduced working capital levels, tight control on capital spending and net reductions in debt. Our primary focus continues to be the improvement of operating margins and return on assets employed, to be realized through a combination of aggressive working capital management and continuous improvement initiatives.”

Revenues were down 11.8 percent compared to a year earlier, to $253.8m, which the company said was partly due to lower commodity prices and lower dollar value. For the first three quarters of the year, ended September 30, 2009, it recorded revenues of $743.6m versus $810.1m for the same period last year

SunOpta’s Grains and Foods Group and its Ingredients Group were particularly strong during the quarter, the company said, with the Ingredients Group achieving record quarterly operating income of $2.9m.

Health and wellness

Bromley added that the group’s new credit facilities, which it secured at the end of October, are expected to provide SunOpta with the liquidity necessary to continue investing in the business, and it has said it will maintain its focus on foods and ingredients for health and wellness.

“We are confident that our cost control, efficiency, product development and asset utilization initiatives are key to delivering long term sustainable returns as interest in health and wellness continues to gain attention around the globe," he said.

Market researchers have suggested that consumer appetite for health and wellness ingredients is heightened during times of economic crisis, as people prepare more foods at home and become more concerned about their overall health.

When reporting its full-year results for 2008, SunOpta said it would refrain from providing revenue and earnings guidance for 2009 due to “uncertain and rapidly changing macro-economic conditions.” The company reiterated that position with the announcement of its Q3 results.

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