Spain's Ebro sees profits rise as coronavirus pandemic boosts rice, pasta sales

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's Ebro Foods EBRO.MC said its net profit increased by 38% in the first half of the year as demand for its pasta and rice was driven higher by a change in consumer habits during the coronavirus pandemic.

The company, which says it is the world’s second-largest rice seller and maker of dry and fresh pasta, said on Wednesday its net profit rose to 102.8 million euros (93.11 million pounds) on sales that climbed 23% to 1.67 billion euros.

Ebro Foods’ operating costs also increased as it tried to keep pace with demand.

“The rice division’s sales could have been even stronger if some of our plants had not been close to full capacity,” Ebro said in an statement, noting that dry pasta demand had also risen.

Demand for staple foods increased in all countries affected by lockdowns as people stayed home, cooking their own food. Demand also benefited from panic buying when lockdowns were first announced as consumers feared running out of food.

Ebro Foods, which owns brands such as Garofalo in Italy, Panzani in France and Tilda in Britain, reported adjusted earnings before interest taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of 227.5 million, up 42.8%.

The company expects demand to stay strong, though closer to normal levels, in the second half of the year, as long as no lockdowns are imposed to fend off second-wave contagions.

Reporting by Emma Pinedo; Editing by Inti Landauro and Jan Harvey