Northern Foods

Northern Foods plc
Type Public (LSENFDS)
Industry Food
Founded 1937 as Northern Dairies
Headquarters Leeds, West Yorkshire, England
Key people Anthony Hobson, (Chairman)
Stefan Barden, (CEO)
Revenue £975.2 million (2009)[1]
Operating income £52.7 million (2009)[1]
Net income £2.5 million (2009)[1]
Employees 9,890 (2009)[1]
Subsidiaries Gunstones bakery, Solway Foods, Fox's Biscuits, Green Isle Foods, Hollands Pies, Pennine Foods, Matthew Walker

Northern Foods plc (LSENFDS) is a British food manufacturer headquartered in Leeds in the north of England. It was formerly listed on the London Stock Exchange and was a constituent of the FTSE SmallCap Index. The company was scheduled to merge with Greencore Group in 2011 to form Essenta Foods, the group being headquartered in Dublin, and listed on the FTSE.[2][3] On 21 January 2011 Ranjit Boparan announced a bid to buy Northern Foods,[4] which succeeded in gaining sufficient shareholder support to proceed, resulting in the appointment of Boparan as the company's Chairman in April 2011.[5]



The business was founded by Alec Horsley in 1937 as a family-run dairy business based in Holme on Spalding Moor.[6] In 1942 the business was registered as Northern Dairies and became a public company in 1956.[6] In 1962 Horsley persuaded Christopher Haskins, the future Chairman, to join the business as a condition of marrying his daughter.[7] In 1972 the Company changed its name to Northern Foods as it diversified into general food production.[6]

It bought Park Cake Bakeries and Oldham & Smiths Flour Mills in 1972.[6] In 1974, Pork Farms and Northern Foods created joint venture company Porkdown Ltd, to supply meat products to French foods group Danone. But immediately after production started, Danone undertook a group wide-review, and on deciding to concentrate on their milk products line, closed down the contract. The resultant losses closed Porkdown, and in 1978 led to the agreed sale of Pork Farms to Northern Foods, after the controlling Samworth family agreed sale of their shares to the group.[6] Then in 1977 it acquired Fox's Biscuits.[6]

Acquisitions continued in the 1980s, under the leadership of Christopher Haskins who became Chairman in 1980, with Dorset Chilled Foods in 1981, Bowyers and Elkes Biscuits in 1985, Batchelors in 1986 and Evesham Foods in 1988.[6] In 1987 the company built the most advanced food factory in Europe, the Fenlands Food Factory in Grantham,[6] and dedicated it entirely to Marks & Spencer.

In the 1990s it acquired: Palethorpes in 1990; Park Cake Bakeries, Trafford Park Bakery, Kara Foods, Express Dairies and Eden Vale in 1991; Mathew Walker in 1992; Vanderheul in 1993; Green Isle Foods in 1995; Cavaghan & Grey and George Payne & Co. in 1998; and Pyewipe in 1999.[6]

In 2000 it acquired a 40% stake in Solway Foods (later increased to 100%) and R&K Wise and in 2002 it bought Lacemont and Fox's Confectionery.[6]

Buyer to seller

Most of the purchases were made by a common practise of the time, share leverage or exchange. But in the wake of crash, the companies growth slowed and cash reserves dwindled. Resultantly, in 2002 it started a programme of disposals, selling Vanderheul, Ski and Munch Bunch in 2002 to Nestle,[6] and Fox's Confectionery and Batchelors in 2003.[6]

Following the resignation of Chief Executive Jo Stewart in 2003,[8] the former Shell executive Pat O’Driscoll was appointed Chief Executive in March 2004.[6]

The company went further with its programme of disposals in 2004 selling Emile Tissot, Eden Vale and Cavaghan & Gray Seafood.[9]

In 2005 the corporate headquarters was moved to Leeds, while Evesham Foods and the London Road site of Cavaghan & Gray in Carlisle were both closed.[6]

In 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) ;[10] it also closed its Green Isle Boyle site and its Trafford Park Bakery.[11] These businesses were sold to a private equity group, Vision Capital.[12]

Following the resignation of Pat O'Driscoll as Chief Executive in February 2007,[13] Stefan Barden was appointed to the post. In 2007 the company acquired Ethnic Cuisine, a ready meals business producing Chinese food and based in Swansea, Wales.[14] This business closed down in 2010 after losing the Sainsbury's contract which accounted for 90% of its production.[15]

In 2008 it bought the chilled soup facilities of Baxters Food Group[16] and closed the Fenland Foods factory in Grantham.[17]

In 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 are underway to decide the location of this.[18] Also in the same year Northern Foods announced it was planning to close its Hull factory which had formerly been part of Cavaghan & Gray.[19]

In 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.[20]

On 17 November 2010 the company announced it was merging with Irish ready-made meals supplier, Greencore. According to industry web site,, the company's shares rose more than 20% that day. The new company will be called Essenta.[21] 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 Mr Ranjit Boparan announced a bid to buy Northern Foods,[4] which succeeded in gaining sufficient shareholder support to proceed, resulting in the appointment of Mr Boparan as the company's Chairman in April 2011.[5] On 13 May 2011 the company was delisted from the London Stock Exchange.


The company's brands can be summarised as follows:[22]


Own branded production for customers


  1. ^ a b c d Annual Report 2009
  2. ^ Greencore, Northern Foods to merge Irish Times, 17 November 2010
  3. ^ Greencore and Northern Foods to merge RTE, 17 November 2010
  4. ^ a b Boparan wins Northern Foods with £341m bid
  5. ^ a b Boparan becomes Northern Foods Chairman
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "History". Northern Foods. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  7. ^ "Pastures new for milk man turned rural tsar". London: The Guardian. 18 November 2001. Retrieved 2008-04-28. 
  8. ^ "Northern Foods boss quits". BBC News. 4 September 2003. Retrieved 2008-04-28. 
  9. ^ "End of era for historic food firm". BBC News. 24 March 2005. Retrieved 2008-04-28. 
  10. ^ "Northern Foods unveils sell-off". BBC News. 31 May 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-28. 
  11. ^ "Northern Foods to shed 900 jobs". BBC News. 24 August 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-28. 
  12. ^ "Vision Capital realigns Northern Food purchases". 26 January 2007. Retrieved 27 December 2010. 
  13. ^ Mesure, Susie (2 February 2007). "Northern Foods' chief executive exits". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2008-04-28. 
  14. ^ "Ready-made expansion for food firm". Western Mail. 23 November 2007. Retrieved 2008-04-28. 
  15. ^ "Swansea ready meals firm to close". BBC. 2010-04-22. Retrieved 2010-04-22. 
  16. ^ "Northern Foods to ramp up chilled foods production". Sharecast. 11 January 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  17. ^ Hall, James (May 28, 2008). "Closed M&S food plant sparks row". London: The Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  18. ^ "Leeds-based Northern Foods makes no comment on Batley Fox's biscuit factory as it reports robust Christmas trading". The Yorkshire Evening Post. 13 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-14. [dead link]
  19. ^ Northern Foods to close Hull site BBC News, 27 May 2009
  20. ^ "Striking Green Isle workers to begin 'hunger strike'". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2010-02-16. 
  21. ^ "In the spotlight - The Greencore, Northern Foods merger". Retrieved 2010-11-17. 
  22. ^ "Our products". Northern Foods. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 

External links

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