Britain adopts new, unorthodox industrial profile

An alarmingly colored mixture of flavorings and crushed ice developed in the United States . . . fireworks . . . knitting wool . . . orange juice . . . advertising . . . fire and theft security devices . . . household goods. . . .

Companies making and selling all these items are emerging as some of the most spectacular survivors of the long industrial recession still challenging Britain.

While they are accompanied by more orthodox companies - property developers (in the newly North Sea oil-rich city of Aberdeen, Scotland for instance), along with oil, advertising, supermarket, and electronics groups - they add up to a changed industry profile for this birthplace of the industrial revolution.

''That's right,'' commented a spokesman for the Confederation of British Industries (CBI) in an interview, ''they are a long way from the industries that made Britain famous - heavy engineering, cars, machine tools, and so on.''

The premium for Britain - and other countries - today is on good new ideas, imaginatively developed and translated into products of uniformly high quality, backed by efficient sales and service networks.

Traditional factories are in decline. Low-wage Asian countries, competition from Western Europe, altered world trade patterns, and other factors are working deep changes.

The new profile emerges in a list of the 26 companies with the highest growth in earnings since 1976, compiled by the independent survey company Datastream for The Sunday Times.

When the Monitor went to the CBI, the voice of British industry, for comment and analysis, it found a marked degree of caution, however.

''Yes, the 26 in the list are the highflyers,'' a spokesman said, ''and they have done well. But look at what they also show:

''Britain's traditional industries are in big trouble.

''And if you are talking about growth, you must, as far as we are concerned, put it in context: The overall industry picture throughout the United Kingdom today is gloomy, very gloomy indeed. The growth we thought we saw at the beginning of this year just hasn't followed through, and our regional reports covering the last quarter show little signs of an upturn soon.''

The CBI is in the midst of a concerted, carefully orchestrated campaign led by its director-general, Sir Terence Beckett, to convince Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Geoffrey Howe to ease tax burdens and lower interest rates in the next budget due in March 1983.

The campaign, kicked off by pre-releasing pessimistic findings by CBI area executives showing empty order books and slow growth even in the prosperous southeast of England, attracts headlines because it contradicts the government's optimistic claims of economic gains.

The Treasury forecasts an overall growth rate of 1 percent for Britain this year, but the CBI doubts even this low target can be reached. That said, it remains true that some companies do well, as the Datastream figures show.

Not reflected by Datastream, but attested to by industry sources, are other profitable areas, many of them centered on the private home and its needs at a time when Britons are staying home more to stretch their budgets.

Household goods and tableware, china, glass, builders extending and adding onto existing homes, furniture makers and retailers, and others are all doing reasonably well.

So are a number of computer and electronics companies. On the other hand, traditional machine tool, auto, textile, shoe, and new-home construction companies are suffering.

The company with the highest earnings growth since 1976 (893 percent) was Somportex, importer of the US Slush Puppy drink of ice and flavorings. Next was City of Aberdeen Land (735 percent), followed by the oil company Ultramar, Sirdar knitting wools, property developer McKay Securities, Godfrey Davis cars, and the Avana Group, which quenches British thirst by putting orange juice into long-life cartons.

Among northern companies in the top survivor list: William Morrison supermarkets and Bakers household stores.

Automated security was one of the first fire and theft detector companies. I. J. Dewhirst mass produces shirts and suits for Marks & Spencers chain clothing stores. Aeronautical and General Instruments makes modern pay-phones for British Telecom.

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