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British Industrial History

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Northern Foods

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Northern Foods Ltd of Hull, of Leeds.

Starting as a dairy business

1937 Founded by Alec Horsley as a family-run dairy business based in Holme on Spalding Moor.

1942 The business was registered as Northern Dairies

1956 Became a public company

1958 Alec's son Nicholas Horsley joined the then Northern Dairies as a trainee manager, becoming a director in 1963. His first great business success was to acquire, very cheaply, a stake in a small ice-cream company called Mr Whippy, which he sold on to Charles (now Lord) Forte for a very high price two years later.

1969 When his father retired, Nick came into his own as chairman.

Change of Name and Change of Strategy

1972 Diversified the business, widening Northern Foods' portfolio into cakes for Marks & Spencer (through Park Cakes), Smith's Flour Milling, brewing (with the purchase of Hull Brewery Co). Northern Dairies changed its name to Northern Foods, with 4 divisions[1]:

  • Milk and milk products
  • Finance
  • Cake and Flour
  • Brewing

1973 Set up UK milk products joint venture with Danone - Dale Farm Danone[2]

Later acquired Fox's Biscuits[3], Pork Farms [4] and many other smaller firms. The company pioneered the market in chilled, prepared meals and sandwiches in supermarkets.

1981 Acquired Dorset Chilled Foods

1985 Acquired Bowyers from Unilever [5] and Elkes Biscuits. Sold North Country Breweries to Mansfield Brewery[6]

1986 Acquired Batchelors, a canned foods business in Ireland[7]

1988 Acquired sausage roll and bakery products maker Evesham Foods from Unilever[8]

1987 Built the most advanced food factory in Europe, the Fenlands Food Factory in Grantham, and dedicated it entirely to Marks & Spencer.

Nicholas Horsley took early retirement due to a rare genetic wasting disease, and in the late 80s handed over the reins to his brother-in-law Christopher Haskins.

1990s Northern Foods acquired: Palethorpes in 1990; Park Cake Bakeries, Trafford Park Bakery, Kara Foods, Express Dairies and Eden Vale in 1991; Matthew Walker in 1992; Vanderheul in 1993; Green Isle Foods in 1995; Cavaghan and Gray and George Payne and Co in 1998; and Pyewipe in 1999.

2000 Acquired a 40% stake in Solway Foods (later increased to 100%) and R&K Wise

2002 it bought Lacemont and Fox's Confectionery.

Buyer to seller

2002 The company started a programme of disposals, selling Vanderheul, Ski and Munch Bunch to Nestle, and Fox's Confectionery and Batchelors in 2003.

Following the resignation of Chief Executive Jo Stewart in 2003, the former Shell executive Pat O’Driscoll was appointed Chief Executive in March 2004.

The company went further with its programme of disposals in 2004 selling Emile Tissot, Eden Vale and Cavaghan & Gray Seafood.

2005 the corporate headquarters was moved to Leeds, while Evesham Foods and the London Road site of Cavaghan & Gray in Carlisle were both closed.

2006 the company announced a further radical refocus of the business, targeting disposal of its chilled distribution(NFT), flour milling (Smiths), cakes (Park Cakes), speciality bread (Fletchers) and chilled pastry businesses (Pork Farms Bowyers); it also closed its Green Isle Boyle site and its Trafford Park Bakery. These businesses were sold to a private equity group, Vision Capital.

Following the resignation of Pat O'Driscoll as Chief Executive in February 2007, Stefan Barden was appointed to the post.

2007 the company acquired Ethnic Cuisine, a ready meals business producing Chinese food based in Swansea, Wales. This business closed down in 2010 after losing the Sainsbury's contract which accounted for 90% of its production.

2008 Northern bought the chilled soup facilities of Baxters Food Group and closed the Fenland Foods factory in Grantham.

2009 it proposed to establish a new "super" biscuit plant by combining the operations of its plants at Batley and Uttoxeter, at a new site. Discussions took place to decide the location of this. Also in the same year Northern Foods announced it was planning to close its Hull factory which had formerly been part of Cavaghan and Gray.

2010 strikers at the group's Green Isle Foods pizza plant in Naas, Ireland, indicated that they were commencing a hunger strike and promoting a boycott of Green Isle Foods brand products, Goodfellas Pizza and other Northern Foods products. The action was announced following a strike which began in August 2009 and the failure of Green Isle Foods to recognise the decision of the Irish Labour Court that three employees were unfairly dismissed by the company.

2010 On 17 November, the company announced it was merging with Irish ready-made meals supplier, Greencore Group. According to an industry web site, just-food.com, the company's shares rose more than 20% that day. The new company will be called Essenta. The new company was to be chaired by Tony Hobson (Chair of Northern Foods & ex Non Exec at HBOS), Deputy Chair Ned Sullivan (Chair of Greencore & ex Non Exec at Allied Irish Bank) and the CEO was to be Patrick Coveney (current CEO of Greencore).

On 21 January 2011, Ranjit Singh Boparan of 2 Sisters Food Group announced a bid to buy Northern Foods, which succeeded in gaining sufficient shareholder support to proceed. This resulted in the appointment of Boparan as the company's chairman in April 2011.

On 13 May 2011 the company was delisted from the London Stock Exchange.

Brands

  • Pizza Goodfella's
  • San Marco
  • Fox's Biscuits - Batley, Kirkham and Uttoxeter
  • Matthew Walker - Heanor, Derbyshire - Christmas puddings
  • Donegal Catch - a range of frozen fish recipes, available across Ireland
  • Holland's Pies - meat pies
  • Ready meals - Carlisle, Sheffield, & Grimsby
  • Packed sandwiches and salads Gunstones Bakery - Dronfield, Derbyshire
  • Solway Foods - Worksop and Corby

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Times, Nov 02, 1972
  2. The Times, Sep 21, 1973
  3. The Times , Jun 25, 1977
  4. The Times, May 09, 1978
  5. The Times, Jun 15, 1985
  6. The Times June 05, 1986
  7. The Times, June 06, 1986
  8. The Times, February 02, 1988