UZWIL, SWITZERLAND — Bühler on Feb. 13 reported EBIT of CHF 146 million ($163.6 million) for 2020 compared to CHF 248 million a year ago.

Turnover was CHF 2.7 billion, down 17.0% from CHF 3.3 billion. The 2020 figures are impacted by the development of currency exchange rates, specifically of the Chinese yuan, euro, and US dollar against the Swiss franc.

The Group gained financial strength, with equity ratio reaching 44.2% (+1.4 percentage points) and net liquidity soaring to CHF 749 million (+66.8%). Turnover was CHF 2.7 billion (-17.0%), with order intake amounting to CHF 2.6 billion (-16.7%).

“Protecting our liquidity had the highest priority over the course of last year,” said Chief Financial Officer Mark Macus. “Our target was to remain a very solid and strong partner for all our stakeholders, and we achieved this even in a challenging year like 2020.”

Operating cash flow jumped 211% from CHF 151 million to CHF 470 million.

“With high agility we adapted quickly to the new situation to ensure continuity on all levels,” said Chief Executive Officer Stefan Scheiber. “In light of our global set-up and innovation power, we are looking into the future with bounded optimism.”

Bühler assured the health of its employees and its daily operations throughout the year. Supply chains proved remarkably solid, as Bühler was able to absorb the pandemic’s waves thanks to its global network of 33 factories, 100 service stations, and digital tools such as remote customer trials or commissioning, to bring much needed food capacities online worldwide.

“We have seen a sharp rise in customer demand for digital solutions, but also for sustainable solutions, such as CO2-reduced emissions, nutritious and healthy food, high-end deposition technologies, and clean mobility,” Scheiber said.

Grains & Food (GF) order intake was CHF 1.6 billion, 13.9% lower than the previous year. Turnover decreased 7.2% to CHF 1.7 billion. With the implementation of solutions such as Mill E3 and its Arrius integrated grinding system, GF further expanded its position as a technological leader in grain processing and human and animal nutrition.

The Consumer Foods (CF) business was more affected by the pandemic, as customers in the industry suffered from much diminished traffic in duty-free shops, restaurants, and hotels – much less business originated for them because of reduced events. Order intake decreased 29.2% to CHF 549 million. Turnover decreased 25.8% to CHF 574 million. The order intake of Advanced Materials (AM) came in at CHF 453 million, down 7.2%.

Turnover shrank 31.7% to CHF 443 million, caused by the severe weakness of the global automotive industry. However, the high-tech special deposition technology business of Bühler Leybold Optics grew substantially. Therefore, AM has improved its profitability, resulting from immediate and tight adjustments of structure costs to the new market conditions and the launch of innovations which were very positively absorbed by the markets.

The company said the highlights from the businesses were strong growth of the Value Nutrition business due to high interest in meat alternatives from plant-based proteins; the build-up of large food parks such as in Egypt where Bühler built complete industrial infrastructures comprising of mills, biscuit, wafer, chocolate, and pasta lines; and the strong growth of Bühler Leybold Optics’ optical coating solutions, addressing the high demand for computer chips.

Along with the divergent course of Bühler’s businesses, there was also a shift in regional development towards Asia. While all markets reported lower volumes, Bühler Asia managed to be stable driven by the strong growth of Bühler’s business in China.

Order intake in China rose sharply by 15% for the full year. Regarding turnover, Asia now makes up 35% (previous year: 31%), Europe 30% (30%), North America 16% (16%), Middle East & Africa 11% (14%), South America 5% (6%), and South Asia 3% (3%).

Despite the challenging environment, Bühler continued to execute its innovation roadmap, launching 86 new products and solutions.

The expenses for research and development were about at last year’s level at CHF 139 million (previous year: CHF 149 million), leading to an increase relative to Group turnover of 5.2% (previous year: 4.6%). Bühler has opened new application centers for food in Minneapolis, US, for malting and brewing in Beilngries, Germany, and a new training and education center for cocoa processing in Abidjan, Cote-d’Ivoire. With Givaudan, the global leader in flavors and fragrances, Bühler built an Innovation Center dedicated to plant-based foods in Singapore. The new facility is planned to open in March 2021. With Canadian Premier Tech, Bühler formed a joint venture in China for new packaging solutions which started very successfully in 2020. Furthermore, Bühler drove latest innovations for digital platforms and solutions successfully into industrial applications globally with impressive success.

Bühler took all learnings from 2020 to increase business excellence and develop the “new normal”, for example, by switching to digital customer communication formats, such as the Bühler Virtual World. Based on a strong purpose as a family company and dedicated employees across the globe, with its innovation power, broad portfolio, and its global set-up, Bühler is looking into the future with optimism.

“For 2021, we expect our business volume and profitability to stay stable, as the coronavirus crisis will have a longer lasting effect in our businesses. At the same time, we are now laying ground to return to profitable growth in future, by addressing new markets and adapting to new market conditions and opportunities with agility and determination,” Scheiber said.