POTATO grower Bartlett International Holdings was hit by a 6.8% drop in turn-over to £132.7 million during a "challenging" year in the fresh produce market.

The Airdrie company's profits came in at £8.4m in the 12 months to May 31 this year, down slightly on the £8.6m the previous year.

The financial result was helped by a reduction in interest and financing payments from £1.1m to £624,307. Net debt was cut from £23.4m to £15.8m

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In accounts filed at Companies House the performance was described as satisfactory given the testing economic conditions experienced throughout the year.

The directors' report said: "The core UK retail sector continues to be one of the most competitive in the global market, providing challenges for all involved in the supply chain."

The business – which has Albert Bartlett Rooster potatoes as its main brand – said a deal with Walmart in the US announced earlier this year had resulted in the first sales in November.

Further export markets are being looked at, according to the accounts.

The Scotty Brand arm – which also includes carrots, raspberries and strawberries with a focus on Scottish produce – was said to have performed well.

Barlett said it had continued to invest in its facilities but this was becoming more difficult as "trading conditions remain tough".

Average staff numbers dipped from 797 to 779 but employee costs increased from £17.5m to £19.8m. The accounts show Ronnie Bartlett was the only director to serve in the year and his emoluments rose from £786,796 to £966,389. There was a £1.4m dividend paid in the year.

The accounts state Mr Bartlett bought investment properties from the company for £1.4m, a further property for £226,007 and a motor vehicle for £72,000. He also received loan repayments of £733,731.

The business was founded in 1948 when Albert Bartlett set up a beetroot boiling company and remains under family ownership. Its television adverts in recent years have featured Dallas star Jesse Metcalfe and Desperate Housewives actress Marcia Cross.